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Why Black Friday Sales Matter Less Than Ever

Bernice Napach
Monday, 26 Nov 2012 | 1:08 PM ET

Retailers reported $59.1 billion in sales this Black Friday weekend, up 13% from a year ago. But the jump was smaller than the 16% increase in sales in 2011. A number of big retailers including Wal-Mart, Target and Toys "R" Us opened their doors Thursday evening, which analysts say affected Black Friday sales figures.

Related: Top Black Friday Myths Debunked

"Overall it was a good start to the holiday season," says The Daily Ticker's Aaron Task, but "Black Friday matters even less now" than before. For one thing, says Task, Thursday night sales at stores that were open may have reduced sales on Friday. Online sales topped $1 billion on Friday, according to research firm comScore.

Related: Black Friday Weekend by the Numbers

Historically, retailers and shoppers saw Black Friday sales numbers as a harbinger of what to expect for the full holiday shopping season, but that's not necessarily the case anymore.

"Based on the charts that I have seen, all the obsession with what the sales were and what they mean is over the top," says The Daily Ticker's Henry Blodget. " There isn't as strong a correlation."

That's exactly what Capital Economics found after comparing retail sales during the Thanksgiving week to overall holiday sales. Its study, cited in a recent Washington Post story, also found that strong sales around Black Friday predicted weaker holiday sales overall.

And a longer holiday shopping season doesn't guarantee more sales.

"How many people do you know who can spend more if they start shopping earlier?" asks Blodget.

Related: Black Friday Deals Can be Found Year-Round, Says NPD's Cohen

Shoppers spent an average of $423 Black Friday weekend, up 6% from $398 spent a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation. Nearly 140 million people shopped last weekend, or 44% of the U.S. population.

Many of them and possibly more will be shopping again today on Cyber Monday. ComScore expects shoppers will spend $1.5 billion online for holiday gifts today — up 20% from last year. That's on top of the $1.78 billion spent last Thursday and Friday.

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