Retailers Ring Up Strong Start to Holiday Shopping
The lure of bargains trumped economic concerns at the start of the holiday shopping season
as retailers logged sales that were significantly stronger than a year ago, a customer traffic counter said.
Sales rose 8.3 percent on "Black Friday" -- the first official day of the U.S. holiday shopping season -- compared with the same day a year ago, according to the National Retail Sales Estimate from ShopperTrak.
The company estimated sales Friday totaled $10.3 billion.
Black Friday sales typically account for between 4.5 and 5 percent of all holiday sales, ShopperTrak said.
The sales spike was evidence that customers are willing to spend despite mounting worries about a slumping housing market, a credit crunch and soaring fuel prices. Experts say those concerns still may dampen the season overall.
"Although retailers need to remain cautious, the Black Friday outpouring should have them breathing a sigh of relief, and they will be paying close attention to see if consumers
continue this strong shopping pace throughout the holiday season," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's co-founder.
Shoppers Flock to Discounters
One sign that consumers remain budget-conscious despite the buying frenzy this weekend is that discount stores were the choice of more Thanksgiving weekend shoppers this year than last, a survey released on Sunday showed.
Almost 65 percent of people who shopped on Friday said one of the places they shopped was at a discount store, according to the survey by America's Research Group, a consumer-behavior marketing firm. That compares with 55.7 percent in 2006, according to the group.
On the other end of the spending spectrum, jewelry stores were named by only 6.3 percent of the people who said they shopped on Friday, compared with 10 percent in 2006, Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of the group, said.
For the whole weekend, 31.4 percent of people said they did most of their shopping at discount stores, 20.8 percent said department stores and 16.7 percent said electronics stores.
In an apparent sign of desperation, the nation's stores ushered in the official start of the holiday shopping season on Friday with expanded hours, including midnight openings, and a blitz of early morning specials that were more generous than a year ago. J.C. Penney and Kohl's opened at 4 a.m., an hour earlier than a year ago.
The strategy appears to have worked, as shoppers jammed stores in record numbers for early morning deals on Friday.
Judging by the lines outside Sears stores Friday, consumers were especially eager, said John Ford, regional manager at Sears Holdings in New York.
"It exceeded our expectations. We had more customers at opening yesterday than we had in prior years," Ford said of the number of people waiting outside for the stores to open Friday. "I would tell you it was 50 to 100 percent higher than it was in previous years."
Ford declined to provide sales figures or to speculate on the shopping season in general.
Penney reported "strong performance across all merchandise categories,' including fine jewelry, outerwear, and young men's and children's assortments.
But the department store chain cautioned, "while we are encouraged by our strong start, it is still early in the holiday season, and we are mindful of the headwinds consumers are facing."