'A Promising Sign for the Economic Recovery': Black Friday Sales Hit Record High

The stampede for deeply discounted goods was fed by aggressive marketing.

Americans shrugged off economic gloom to spend a record $52.4 billion over Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said Sunday, as shoppers prepared for "Cyber Monday" online deals.

Sales over the long holiday weekend were up 16% from last year, marking the biggest dollar amount ever spent over the Black Friday period -- the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season -- the National Retail Federation said.

"Stuffed to the brim from their holiday meals and eager to shop, more consumers than ever turned out for retailers' Black Friday promotions, a promising sign for the economic recovery," said Matthew Shay, president of the federation.

"After an historic holiday weekend, retailers know the holiday season is far from over and will continue to look for ways to excite holiday shoppers and build on the momentum we've seen thus far."

The average holiday shopper -- 226 million of them visiting stores and websites this weekend, according to the association's survey -- spent $398.62, up from $365.34 last year.

Consumers are likely to continue the trend on Monday, known as "Cyber Monday" for the deep discounts offered on Internet retail sites.

"We are anticipating a very strong Cyber Monday," NRF vice president Ellen Davis told reporters in a conference call about the survey, which included figures for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and projected spending for Sunday.

Meanwhile, the research firm comScore said 50 million Americans visited online retail sites on Black Friday alone, a 35% jump from last year. Sales totaled $816 million, 26% more than last year.

Amazon was the most visited website, followed by Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and Apple, according to comScore.

Davis, however, warned against over-optimism, saying that similar Black Friday figures were seen in 2008 during the recession, but afterward, "Nobody shopped for the rest of the holiday season."

Black Friday Deals Started on Thanksgiving

Shoppers mobbed malls and went online in droves to snap up bargains late Thursday, through the night and into Friday -- an annual sales ritual that marks the start to the end-of-year shopping season relied on by many retailers.

The stampede for deeply discounted goods was fed by aggressive marketing, with many stores this year moving up their sales launches to intrude on Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday and carry on through the weekend.

The orgy of consumption was marred by a number of isolated violent incidents. One woman pepper-sprayed other shoppers at a Los Angeles-area Wal-Mart, while there were several shootings at stores across the country.

Sears opened Thanksgiving morning -- traditionally a time when families gather for quiet get-togethers -- and Toys "R" Us opened at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Wal-Mart's big discount rival Target upset some employees by opening doors at midnight on Thanksgiving.

John Squire, chief strategy officer at IBM Smarter Commerce, said this year "marked Thanksgiving's emergence as the first big spending day of the 2011 holiday season with a record number of consumers shifting their focus from turkey to tablets and the search for the best deals."

The momentum "continued into Black Friday where the big winners were those retailers that delivered a smarter commerce experience with compelling, relevant deals that people could easily access from their channel of choice," he added.

Neel Grover, president and chief executive of online seller Buy.com, which offers consumers links to more than 4,000 top retailers, said his firm's "initial holiday results point to a strong start of the season."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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