Updated March 22 at 9:20pm

Thanksgiving weekend sales rise 6.4% as shoppers seek out deals


NEW YORK - The average shopper in the U.S. spent 6.4 percent more over Thanksgiving weekend than last year as more shoppers picked up jewelry and toys, heartened by the economic rebound.

About 212 million shoppers went to stores and websites over the holiday weekend, on average spending $365.34, the National Retail Federation said on Sunday. The proportion of sales online rose to more than one-third of the total, according to the Washington-based trade group.

Retailers lured people into stores with promotions like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s $5 Barbie and J.C. Penney Co.’s $10 diamond-accented earrings. Customers such as Barb Capa, shopping at Saks Inc.’s flagship store yesterday in New York, said they’re ready to buy again as their fortunes improve.

“I just feel like spending more because of an increase in my salary,” the 22-year-old nurse from New York said. In 2009 Capa spent $1,000 during the holiday season. This year she is ready to “splurge” and drop five times as much on designer bags, clothes and shoes.

U.S. retail sales during Thanksgiving weekend totaled about $45 billion, the NRF said, citing a survey conducted by BIGresearch. More people are scouring for deals earlier, with the number of customers shopping on Thanksgiving Day more than doubling over the past five years, the group said.

“Consumers are more comfortable spending again, and that trend has held up,” Maggie Taylor, a vice president at Moody’s Investors Service in New York, said on Sunday. “I don’t think people are as worried about losing their jobs anymore.”

On Black Friday itself, so named because that’s when many retailers become profitable, traffic rose 2.2 percent, ShopperTrak said on Nov. 27. The Chicago-based consulting firm said sales rose 0.3 percent to $10.7 billion.

Rebounding Sentiment

The increase follows improvements in consumer sentiment. Confidence among U.S. consumers increased more than forecast in November to the highest level in five months, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan index. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

More shoppers surveyed said they visited department stores this year, and fewer went to discounters as shoppers put more emphasis on service and selection, Ellen Davis, an NRF spokeswoman, said on a conference call on Sunday. Men outspent women as they shopped for electronics and other big-ticket items, often for themselves, Davis said.

The NRF predicts a gain of 2.3 percent to $447.1 billion this holiday period after a rise of 0.4 percent last year and a 3.9 percent drop in 2008. The group may revise its forecast up if the trends of the past weekend continue, Davis said. Nevertheless, she cautioned that a strong start isn’t always indicative of the season - the NRF recorded an increase in its 2008 Black Friday survey, yet saw overall holiday sales decline that year.

First-Time Shopper

Andy Bogats, a 38-year-old father of five, braved the crowds and rain on the morning of Black Friday for the first time in his life. He bought two 32-inch flat-screen Emerson televisions for $198 apiece at a Wal-Mart location outside Pittsburgh.

“We targeted these TVs, and were fortunate to get them,” said Bogats, a former mortgage broker who now works in the construction industry. “Things are getting better.” So much so, that he and his wife may splurge on each other this year. “We didn’t do that last year,” he said.

While some shoppers plan to spend more this season, others are trimming their budgets.

Shannon Parker, 39, and her sister-in-law Tracy Knapp, 42, have made a Black Friday shopping marathon an annual tradition. This year was no exception. The 12-hour shopathon took them from Wal-Mart, Target Corp. and Best Buy Co. to Kohl’s Corp. and Bon Ton Stores Inc. Along the way, they snagged everything from a TV to iPod docking stations to Christmas Eve pajamas for their kids.

Better Budgeting?

There was one difference, however. Parker, a school administrator from Baltimore, put all of her purchases on prepaid credit cards to avoid busting her budget.

“I’m still swiping the plastic, but it’s already paid for,” said Parker, who was visiting her sister-in-law in Allentown, Pa.

Some Americans plan to wait for the deals to improve. One is Debbie Schwig, who declined to buy anything when she visited Apple Inc.’s Fifth Avenue store in Manhattan on Nov. 27 with her husband and dog.

“We’re here to check things out today,” said the 47-year-old nurse from Hoboken, N.J. “We’ll wait until vendors get more desperate.”

Avoiding Bedlam

Others opted to avoid the bedlam of Black Friday altogether. Bridget Hujsa, a teacher from Bethlehem, Pa., is buying nearly all of her gifts online at Target and Gap Inc.’s Old Navy, where she found discounts on clothes and baby toys for her 7-month-old son.

“I prefer online,” she said. “You don’t have to drive and deal with the crowds.”

She may get her chance today by joining in on Cyber Monday, known as the kickoff for the online holiday shopping season. More than 106 million people are projected to surf the Internet for deals, according to the NRF. Best Buy, for example, began a two-day Cyber Monday sale yesterday with discounts on 32-inch LCD televisions and Dell Inc. laptops.


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