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Black Friday shoppers purchase less than expected

Saturday, November 27, 2010 | 5:49 p.m. CST

NEW YORK — Shoppers crowded stores on Black Friday but spent just a little more than last year on the traditional start-of-the-holiday shopping season, according to data released Saturday by a research firm.

Retail spending rose a slight 0.3 percent, to $10.69 billion, compared with $10.66 billion on the day after Thanksgiving last year, according to ShopperTrak.

Two factors behind the slim increase, a disappointment following bullish reports from stores Friday, were heavy discounts earlier in November and online shopping, which saw a big increase.

According to Shoppertrak, a Chicago research firm, which tallies sales in more than 70,000 retail outlets across the country, the total was still a record for the day. It stood behind its prediction for spending to rise 3.2 percent for the season.

"It's hard to say Black Friday wasn't a success, it's just not the success we saw in the mid-2000s, when the day really became a phenomenon," ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said.

The slim sales increase came despite a 2.2 percent boost in store traffic, which Martin said suggests that consumers were in the stores searching for deals. "This means the American shopper has adapted to the economic climate over the last couple of years and is possibly spending more wisely as the holiday season begins," Martin said.

According to ShopperTrak, spending for the first two weeks of the month rose 6.1 percent from last year, as retailers promoted the sort of doorbuster deals that normally didn't appear until after the turkey dinner was finished. Traffic in stores for those two weeks, which ended Nov. 13, jumped 6.2 percent.

"Retailers were very conscious of driving traffic early in November and in doing so, some might have thinned Black Friday spending a bit," Martin said. "The reality is we have a deal-driven consumer in 2010, and that consumer responded to some of the earliest deep discounts we've even seen for the holidays."

Many retailers also offered those discounts and promotions on their websites. Online merchants saw a 16 percent revenue increase, according to research company, Coremetrics.

That increase came partly from shoppers who spent more per online purchase, the Web research company said. The average order rose to $190.80. That's a 12 percent increase from $170.19 on the same day last year.

The solid increase followed a 33 percent online spending increase on Thanksgiving Day.

"The season's off to a great start," said John Squire, Coremetrics vice president of strategy. "It really shows really strong consumer sentiment for buying and for going online."

Meanwhile, PayPal reported an increase of about 27 percent in payment volume on Black Friday compared with last year. The eBay Inc. unit did not release a dollar amount for the sales it processed.

A lot of shoppers made it an all-nighter online. "Even at 1 a.m. Pacific, there was still very strong buying across the U.S.," Squire said.

Shopping on smart phones remained a small, though growing, piece of the pie. Coremetrics said about 5.6 percent of people logged onto a retailer's website using a mobile device. That compares with less than 1 percent on last year's Black Friday, Squire said.

More dollars have shifted to online shopping over the years, but it's still a relatively small share of holiday spending, between 8 percent and 10 percent.

But many shoppers have become converted to the comfort and convenience of browsing the Web for gifts.

Kelly Hager, 30, of Baltimore, Md., is shopping exclusively online for the fourth year in a row.

"It's nice to not have to fight for a parking spot and deal with 3 billion people who are all trying to get the same thing I'm trying to get," she said. Hager used to work at a mall, so she's seen Black Friday from both sides.

Retailers and analysts also were encouraged that people seemed to be buying more items for themselves, a sign they're feeling confident enough to spend more money overall.

Thanksgiving weekend is prime time for retailers. In recent years, Black Friday — called that because the surge of shoppers could take retailers into profitability, or "the black," for the year — has been one of the busiest shopping day of the year, according to data from ShopperTrak.

Black Friday is generally not as big for online retailers as the Monday after Thanksgiving, known as "Cyber Monday," which Coremetrics predicts will be the busiest online shopping day of the year, driven by heavy online promotions.

The Black Friday blitz doesn't make or break the holiday season. In fact, shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, giving retailers some tense moments the last few days before Christmas.

"I wait for the last minute," said Linda Majkowski of Queens, N.Y., who visited a Costco in Melville, N.Y., on Saturday, but said she hadn't started her holiday shopping yet. "I just found out what everybody wants on Thanksgiving."


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