Holiday weekend's shopping up nearly 5 percent

Holiday weekend's shopping up nearly 5 percent

WASHINGTON — Shoppers flooded stores to hunt for bargains over the weekend, giving retailers a boost in traffic despite persistent concerns about the economy.

The National Retail Federation calculated that the average shopper spent $347.44 between Thanksgiving and Sunday, down 3.5 percent from last year. However, aggressive promotions and blockbuster discounts by retailers enticed more people to shop than last year. The NRF estimated that 147 million consumers shopped this weekend, up 4.8 percent from 2006 and exceeding the trade group's expectations.

"Knowing that consumers would be challenged by the current economic environment, retailers hoped that higher traffic would offset lower individual spending, which it did," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy for BigResearch, which conducted the survey for NRF. "The holiday season is off to a good start."

The shopping blitz began early Friday morning, with some malls opening at midnight and JC Penney turning on the lights at 4 a.m. Die-hard bargain hunters began lining up on Thanksgiving Day, waiting for stores to open for Black Friday deals.

According to market research firm ShopperTrak, sales on Black Friday totaled $10.3 billion, up 8.3 percent over last year. The firm said the one-day total typically accounts for as much as 5 percent of holiday spending.

"Although retailers need to remain cautious, the Black Friday outpouring should have them breathing a sigh of relief," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.

Last year, consumers poured their money into high-definition televisions, one of the season's hottest items. This year, shoppers stocked up on less expensive merchandise such as digital photo frames and laptops.

About one-third of consumers said they bought electronics over the weekend, according to NRF. Nearly half of shoppers said they bought clothing or accessories, the most popular category.

Online retailers also reported strong sales on Black Friday. ComScore, which measures Internet traffic, said consumers spent $531 million online on Friday, up 22 percent from last year. On Thursday, sales jumped 29 percent to $272 million.

"It's clear that consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to make their holiday purchases," comScore Chairman Gian Fulgoni said.

Today is expected to be another big day for online retailers as shoppers return to work but continue to spend. Web sites are expected to offer discounts along with such perks as free shipping and gifts Monday, which is nicknamed Cyber Monday. ComScore predicted that sales will top $700 million.

The NRF said it expected 72 million people to shop online Monday, up from 61 million last year. More than half of workers with Internet access said they plan to shop from the office, the group said.

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