Fewer people shopped during the 5-day Thanksgiving weekend, but holiday sales seen as strong

Key Points
  • With discounts starting early and more days to shop before Christmas this year, fewer people turned out for the five-day shopping extravaganza that runs from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, according to the National Retail Federation.
  • The industry trade group is still calling for holiday sales to climb between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent in 2018.
Customers stream into Macy's flagship store in Herald Square on Thanksgiving evening for early Black Friday sales in New York City.
Kena Betancur | Getty Images

With discounts starting early and more days to shop before Christmas this year, fewer people turned out for the five-day shopping extravaganza that runs from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, a retail industry trade group said Tuesday.

But holiday shoppers still have long lists of gifts to buy and plenty of days to do it, giving the National Retail Federation confidence it will be a robust holiday season.

"This was a very strong holiday weekend ... and a very positive indicator of where we are headed," Bill Thorne, senior vice president for communications and public affairs at NRF, said during a call with members of the media Tuesday afternoon.

More than 165 million Americans shopped either online or in stores from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday this year, down from more than 174 million in 2017, NRF revealed. The industry's trade group is still calling for holiday sales to increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent, emphasizing Tuesday it expects growth will come on the higher end of that range.

Shoppers say they still have more than half, or 56 percent, of their holiday shopping left to do, NRF found in polling 3,058 consumers between Nov. 24 and 25. Ninety-two percent of consumers think the deals they saw during Thanksgiving weekend will either continue or improve for the remainder of the year.

"Consumers now view the holiday season as two months," starting around Halloween, Thorne said. And increasingly, consumers are using the five-day holiday weekend to buy for themselves, he added. NRF found self-gifting to be up 13 percent from a year ago.

The average shopper spent $313.29 on gifts and other holiday items from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday, according to NRF, down from $335.47 last year. And more and more of those dollars are being spent online. NRF said more than 89 million people shopped both online and in stores this holiday season, up roughly 40 percent from a year ago.

It's already been reported that this year a record $6.22 billion was spent online Black Friday, with $3.7 billion spent online Thanksgiving Day. Shoppers are seen turning to their smartphones to make purchases around the holidays, especially younger consumers, as retailers improve their mobile apps. Social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest are also making it easier for people to shop directly within those apps.

The top destinations for shopping this past weekend, according to NRF's survey, were department stores (42 percent), online retailers (38 percent) and apparel retailers (30 percent). Cyber Monday was the most popular day to shop online, while Black Friday was the most popular day to shop in stores.

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