Black Friday sales slip from year prior: ShopperTrak

Shoppers purchase electronics and other items at a Best Buy on November 26, 2015 in San Diego, California.
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Shoppers purchase electronics and other items at a Best Buy on November 26, 2015 in San Diego, California.

Brick and mortar retailers saw less foot traffic on Thanksgiving and the day after—the national retail extravaganza otherwise known as Black Friday—as consumers appeared to get an early start on holiday shopping and turned out in stores in fewer numbers, a retail tracking firm said on Saturday.

ShopperTrak's preliminary figures estimated combined retail sales of $12.1 billion over Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a projected decrease from the comparable year-ago period. The firm added that Thanksgiving Day grossed just shy of $2 billion, while Black Friday pulled in more than $10 billion.

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The firm expects brick and mortar sales to rise by 2.4 percent during this year's holiday, it added. Separately, data from analytics firm RetailNext showed overall sales for both days fell 1.5 percent as customer traffic flattened, pushing down average spending per shopper by 1.4 percent.

The impact of the two day sales period, called "Black Friday" because massive sales give a big profit boost to retailers' bottom line, has become questionable in recent years.

Big online promotions and pre-holiday sales have lured in shoppers, some of whom are becoming leery about the big crowds and in-store pandemonium that often punctuates Black Friday. Anecdotal evidence suggests that consumers shifted their purchases from physical stores to websites.

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"This year, we saw Black Friday ads emerge before Halloween, as retailers aimed to get at the shopper's wallet early," said Kevin Kearns, ShopperTrak chief revenue officer. "And from our data, we saw greater retail sales generated prior to the Black Friday weekend, which is a result of retailers successfully elongating the holiday season."

Despite the buying bonanza being dogged by bad press, including reports of numerous fights breaking out in stores and crowds gathering immediately after Thanksgiving dinner, Kearns called Black Friday "the biggest sales day of the year" which represents the firing pistol for the holiday shopping season, he added.

Moreover, ShopperTrak data indicates consumers may be getting savvier about purchases, Kearns added.

"Fewer visits on both days reinforce the trend we've seen throughout the year, in which shoppers are researching products ahead of time, targeting their store visits, and arriving in-store with the intention of making a purchase," added Kearns. "The decrease in shopper visits on Thanksgiving Day also lends itself to the social backlash against store openings on the holiday."

ShopperTrak will release more details about this weekend's sales on Tuesday.

--Reuters contributed to this article.