Holiday shoppers crowd malls and spend more over Black Friday weekend

Early results encouraging sign for retailers, now gearing up for Cyber Monday

  • People shop on Sunday of the Black Friday weekend at the Columbia Mall. Joe Ann Brown, 52, shops in Penny's for nephews, neices and Godchildren, and gets a watch for herself, too.
People shop on Sunday of the Black Friday weekend at the Columbia… (Algerina Perna, Baltimore…)
November 28, 2010|By Hanah Cho, The Baltimore Sun

Lured by huge discounts and earlier store hours, more shoppers crowded malls and bought online during this year's Thanksgiving weekend — opening their wallets a bit wider and offering retailers an encouraging start to the holiday season.

Shoppers in Maryland and across the country spent $45 billion from Thanksgiving through Sunday, or an average of $365.34 per person. That represents a 6.4 percent increase from $343.31 last year, according to figures released Sunday by the National Retail Federation.

The strong early showing is a positive sign for retailers, who have watched consumers pull back on their spending amid the economic downturn and high unemployment over the past two years.

However, analysts said retailers must continue to attract budget-conscious consumers with bargains and promotions to keep the momentum going through the rest of the season. In short, consumers have come to expect nothing less than deals.

"That's the dilemma retailers have," said Britt Beemer of America's Research Group. "If you don't offer consumers the great deals, you won't see any of them."

"Where we are today, the consumer is in financial straits, and if they could get a deal, they're going to take it," Beemer added.

Joe Ann Brown, 52, of Ellicott City, was checking out a watch for herself Sunday at J.C. Penney at the Mall in Columbia while holding onto a table hockey game -- a gift for one of her eight nieces, nephews and godchildren.

"Sometimes, you need to get something for yourself," she said. Brown also snagged a $198 laptop computer for herself, thanks to her sister, who braved the lines on Black Friday at Walmart while Brown baby-sat her children.

Preliminary results from consumer research firm NPD Group's survey of 1,768 consumers found that 33 percent bought items for themselves on the day after Thanksgiving, nicknamed Black Friday because it was traditionally the day that retailers posted their first profit of the year.

"The good news is they started buying on impulse," said Marshal Cohen, NPD Group's chief industry analyst. "We saw some impulsive spending. That had been gone for the last two years. This was an important piece to see."

Holiday sales are expected to increase 2.3 percent from last year, to $447 billion, according to the retail trade group. It would be a marked improvement from last year's 0.4 percent increase and the 3.9 percent decline in holiday sales in 2008.

The Thanksgiving weekend is no longer the bellwether for the season that it once was, but it's still an important one for retailers. Black Friday, for example, accounted for 6.4 percent of all holiday sales last year, according to Chicago-based ShopperTrak.

ShopperTrak said in-store sales on Black Friday rose slightly, increasing 0.3 percent to $10.69 billion. Foot traffic rose 2.2 percent on Friday, driven by early-bird deals and promotions.

Retailers opened their doors earlier than ever before, with some stores beginning their specials on Thanksgiving. About 212 million shoppers hit the stores or shopped online during the weekend, up from 195 million last year, according to the retail group.

The number of consumers shopping reached its peak on Black Friday before traffic dropped off on Saturday and Sunday, the retail group said.

Retailers hope to see another spike on Monday -- at least online -- when 106.9 million Americans are expected to shop over the Internet on so-called Cyber Monday. That's up from 96.5 million last year, according to the retail federation.

Online sales on Black Friday rose 9 percent to $648 million, the biggest spending day so far in 2010, according to comScore Inc.

Cohen, of NPD Group, said there is traditionally a two-week lull in holiday shopping after the Black Friday weekend. He said consumers who didn't get the deals they were looking for around Black Friday tend to wait it out.

"Look for retailers on weekends. If they haven't been doing enough business, they'll roll out deals and promotions," he said.

This year, retailers began enticing consumers early, offering Black Friday-like promotions since Halloween. Some retailers, including Toys "R" Us and Sears, opened on Thanksgiving for the first time this year, while others moved up their start times.

The number of consumers shopping at stores and online on Thanksgiving totaled 22 million, representing 18 percent of shoppers during this weekend, according to the retail federation. Last year, about 18 million Americans were online or at stores on Thanksgiving.

About two-thirds of merchants at the Premium Outlets at Hagerstown and Queenstown opened at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving for the first time, while remaining shops opened at midnight Thursday.

"Our merchants have done a great job, especially with promotions, and making sure that the sales were compelling enough to get people out at midnight and earlier," said Angie Riford, assistant general manager at Hagerstown Premium Outlets.

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