Holiday Season 2011 got off to a roaring start with crowds of shoppers lining up at stores from Thanksgiving evening straight on through the morning on Black Friday, but retail executives remained cautious yet upbeat about the rest of the season.
At stores, online and on smartphones, turnout appeared to be strong, with even those consumers who avoided the Black Friday crowds at stores doing a whole lot of shopping from their homes. Results as of 3pm New York time indicate that Black Friday online sales were up 20 percent from a year earlier, according to IBM Benchmark.
As expected, mobile shopping also is gaining ground this holiday season. IBM said that consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer's site jumped more than 17 percent and nearly 10 percent of consumers were using their smartphone or tablet computer to make a purchase.
Mobile shopping seems to be the new Turkey Day tradition in many households, according data collected by eBay . The amount that shoppers in the U.S. spent using eBay Mobile more than doubled this Thanksgiving from last year, and PayPal Mobile said it had a fivefold increase in global mobile payment volume from last Thanksgiving.
Leapfrog's LeapPad, Amazon's Kindle Fire, and Activision's "Call of Duty" videogame were some of the hottest gift items around this Black Friday, according to retailers.
Atprice-comparison website PriceGrabberthe top item being searched for was a five-inch LED TV, followed by Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox videogame consoles.
That's a switch from recent days, when most shoppers were looking at cameras and clothing, and there had been little interest in these electronic items, according to Graham Jones, general manager of PriceGrabber. But clearly, Black Friday, which tends to be known for its electronics deals, shifted consumers' focus, he said.
Jones said they're also seeing a lot of interest in tablet computers, including the Kindle, Apple's iPad2 and Toshiba Thrive tablet.
Consumers also were shopping for themselves. Sears spokesman Tom Aiello said one of the retailer's most popular deals on Friday morning was a Kenmore washer-dryer combination that was 50 percent off.
But it will be a long holiday season. Retail industry executives weren't ready to assume that the strong Black Friday turnout would translate into higher sales for the holiday season as a whole.
Many retail sales forecasts are calling for holiday sales to rise 2 percent to 3 percent, but there are those who are even more optimistic.
Retailers will be continuing to use deals to draw in shoppers in the coming weeks. Many of Target's Black Friday offers, for example, are two-day deals. Then, there will likely be a new batch of discounts that retailers will roll out for "Cyber Monday," the Monday after Thanksgiving when consumers return to work — and their computers.
Retailers also have increased the number of email offers being sent to consumers in their loyalty lists. Retailers like Best Buyalso tried to leverage their websites to give their loyalty club members access to special deals during the Thanksgiving weekend, while Targethas continued to focus on giving its Target credit card holders an additional 5-percent off discounts.
Cyber Monday used to be known more for sales at specialty retailers and clothing stores, but the discounts have become more broad-based in recent years.
Apparel retailers are looking for a boost. Some said they are waiting for chillier weather in the Northern U.S., which they expect will boost sales of sweaters and coats.
Lord & Taylor CEO Brendan Hoffman said the warmer-than-usual winter weather is more of a concern for his business than any uncertainty about the economy.
However, eBay said it saw a lot of interest in clothing, shoes and accessories on Thanksgiving, with the top three fashion items — Toms Classic Shoes, UGG Australia Classic Short Shoes, and Tory Burch Tumbled Shoes — all in the the shoe category.