Shoppers sit with their boxes and bags at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)
Drawn by heavy promotions and earlier-than-ever opening times, shoppers swarmed the malls on Black Friday weekend and handed retailers a good start to the holiday season.
A record number of people headed to stores and shopped online from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, spending more than last year on presents and indulging in some items for themselves. They rang up an estimated $52.4 billion in sales during the four-day weekend, up from $45 billion last year, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.
Shoppers spent an average of $398.62 each since the holiday shopping season kicked off on Black Friday, the biggest day of the year for U.S. retailers. Spending during the period is closely watched by retailers to gauge how sales might go in the final sprint before the holidays, and is also monitored on Wall Street because consumer spending accounts for about 70% of the U.S. economy.
"It seems like American consumers have been taking a deep breath and making the decision that it's OK to shop again," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the National Retail Federation. "They were brought into stores as a result of good deals, but they were comfortable with spending a bit more."
On Black Friday alone, retailers raked in an estimated $11.4 billion, up 6.6% from last year, according to ShopperTrak, a research firm that monitors sales in thousands of stores around the country. It was the biggest year-over-year increase since an 8.3% surge in 2007, and easily surpassed the anemic 0.3% growth rate reported last year.
Nationwide, about 227 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the long weekend, up from 212 million last year, the retail federation said. Foot traffic on Black Friday jumped 5.1%, ShopperTrak said.
The increased traffic was fueled in part by earlier opening hours from several big retailers including Best Buy, Macy's and Toys R Us, which gambled that people would stay up late to shop Thanksgiving night rather than waking up early the next day. By midnight Thursday, almost a quarter of Black Friday shoppers were already in stores or shopping online.
"Those people out shopping early on Black Friday had money to spend and were excited about early openings," Davis said. "Midnight was the magical hour for Black Friday shoppers."
Although Black Friday doesn't always foretell how the entire holiday season will perform, the day clues retailers in on how consumers are feeling heading into the final weeks of the year.
Industry watchers say that shoppers appeared to take a more relaxed approach to holiday spending over the weekend, with many consumers picking up discretionary items such as jewelry, home decor and sporting goods. Self-gifting was also on the rise as 46% of Black Friday shoppers bought something for themselves, up from 35% last year, research firm NPD Group said.
After scrimping the past year because of worries about the economy, Michael Garcia, 34, dropped more than $300 on clothes for himself and kitchen items for his parents at the Grove shopping center in L.A.'s Fairfax district Sunday. He boosted his holiday budget to $1,500 from $1,000 last year.
"You get to a certain point where you're just tired of watching every penny," said the information technology worker from Los Angeles. "I'm feeling more confident this year about my job, and that means I'll be spending more."
Online retailers also joined the party Friday, according to data from several research groups. Shoppers dropped $816 million online on Black Friday, the heaviest spending day on the Web this year and a 26% increase over the same day last year, ComScore Inc. said Sunday.
Online shoppers spent an average of $190.10 per order, on par with last year, mostly opening their wallets to higher-ticket items compared with 2010, according to a survey by Coremetrics, an IBM Corp. company.
"Retailers have gotten very sharp in the way they are delivering discounts, products and merchandise online," said John Squire, chief strategy officer at IBM Coremetrics. "And with the growth of smartphones and growth of familiarity with Web, consumers have become more comfortable about buying online."
Retailers are set to launch fresh discounts on their websites for Cyber Monday, the first day after the Thanksgiving weekend, when an estimated 122.8 million people will go online shopping. Hundreds of retailers are expected to offer one-day-only bargains and free shipping to lure shoppers browsing on their computers at work.
With the holiday season officially underway, bricks-and-mortar and online retailers must continue pushing promotions and discounts to get shoppers into stores, said Bill Martin of ShopperTrak.
"We still have many more days to come for the holiday season," Martin said. "But if you don't have a good Black Friday, it's almost impossible to have a good holiday season."