Shoppers crowd a Best Buy store on Black Friday in Peoria, Ill.
By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Shoppers were optimistic enough over the nation's economic prospects to hit Black Friday sales in force over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and national retailers expect strong sales during today's Cyber Monday sales as well.
It wasn't just Black Friday that drew holiday shoppers, according to analysts for the National Retail Federation. Shoppers began arriving in stores as early as 8 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and many shopped all weekend long, for a total of 247 million visits to stores and retail websites -- with 35 million of those visits placed on Thanksgiving itself, according to the group's CEO, Matthew Shay. That represented a 9.2 percent increase in store visits compared with 2011.
Last year, he said, shoppers visited the nation's stores 227 million times over the holiday weekend, and 28 million shopped Thanksgiving.
Total spending rose from an average of $398 per person last year to $423 per person this year, for a total of nearly $60 billion spent over four days, up 12.8 percent from 2011. Last year, shoppers spent just over $52 billion during the same period.
"This year there were more people shopping every single day of the weekend," Mr. Shay said during a teleconference with reporters Sunday. "It's an impressive increase."
Another 129 million online shopping visits are expected today, he said.
Expenditures, however, were more limited than they might have been because of the so-called "fiscal cliff" of automatic federal spending cuts and tax increases that could begin Jan. 1, Mr. Shay said. Between 65 percent and 80 percent of shoppers surveyed, he said, indicated that either the nation's overall economic condition or the fiscal cliff in particular shaped their holiday shopping budgets.
And nearly two-thirds of people surveyed said they planned to make their purchases using cash or a debit card rather than a credit card.
"They might not be able to define it in a nuanced way, but they certainly know it's part of the headlines," Mr. Shay said of the cliff. "It's a significant issue and part of the reason people are more willing to spend what they've got, and to look for value."
This weekend also marked the first time that more than half of prospective shoppers planned to do so online. The increase from last year's 48 percent to this year's 52 percent of shoppers planning online purchases is relatively modest but marks a tipping point in the growing trend toward online shopping and in particular mobile- and tablet-based commerce, Mr. Shay said.
"We cannot overstate the impact mobile is having this year," said Mr. Shay, who couldn't offer specific information about the volume or value of mobile commerce but said he had heard strong anecdotal evidence from large retailers. "They said they're ready to create a new day next year called 'Tablet Thursday.' "