Shoppers swarm stores
Survey shows majority of consumers hit the stores over Thanksgiving weekend, encouraging retailers.
December 2, 2002: 2:39 PM EST
By John Chartier, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Shoppers hit the stores with relish over Thanksgiving weekend, giving retailers hope that the critical holiday season will prove more robust than expected, according to an industry survey released Monday.

About 75 percent of consumers surveyed shopped over the weekend, starting with "Black Friday," the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season and one of the busiest shopping days of the year, the latest installment of the National Retail Federation's Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions survey said.

"Shoppers did not waste any time this weekend looking for great deals in the wee hours of the morning," NRF President Tracy Mullin said. "We attribute this to a combination of factors, including six fewer shopping days pushing consumers to shop early, retailers doing an excellent job of advertising great values for consumers, and an early Hanukah."

The survey of about 7,000 consumers showed that shoppers have completed 38.7 percent of their holiday shopping, while 8.2 percent are finished.

Retailers are due to report November sales data Thursday. ShopperTrak RCT, which tracks retail data, said Monday that Thanksgiving weekend sales, including Black Friday, increased 12.4 percent from a year ago. That's sharply higher than the 3.4 percent sales increase in 2001 from 2000.

The three-day sales total rose to $15.9 billion from $14.2 billion spent in the same period a year ago.

"Black Friday" accounted for 46 percent of the weekend's sales by volume, with Saturday claiming 33 percent and Sunday the additional 21 percent.

Nevertheless, a strong Thanksgiving weekend does not necessarily mean a green Christmas, said Bill Dreher, a retail analyst at W.R. Hambrecht & Co.

Dreher said the holiday shopping season, which is shortened by six days because of a later Thanksgiving this year, means consumers are more likely to shop early than wait for the week before Christmas. This may mean merely a shift in the timing of sales, not necessarily a significant increase in sales.

He predicted that when all the numbers are in, Thanksgiving weekend will have accounted for 80 percent of all holiday-season sales, since there will be just two shopping days in the final week before Christmas. That ratio has been steadily increasing for the last several years. In 1998, for example, Dreher notes that 69.6 percent of total holiday sales occurred during Thanksgiving weekend when the final shopping week before Christmas had five days.

"The shopper appears to be in mid-season form with the holiday season just having started," Dreher said.

Still, the weekend's numbers were encouraging to retailers and industry watchers.

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Many retailers have started the holiday shopping season with a bang. Retail analsyt Fred Crawford takes a closer look at the encouraging retail news and Internet sales.

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In its survey, ShopperTrak found that sales rose 9 percent Saturday from the same day a year ago, bringing the two-day average up 10.9 percent from the same days following Thanksgiving last year. The two-day sales total rose to $12.6 billion from $11.4 billion a year ago.

The weekend's strength was evident in the results of some major retailers.

J.C. Penney Inc. (JCP: up $0.57 to $24.30, Research, Estimates) said Monday it had record Thanksgiving weekend sales that were "significantly above" last year's. The company also said it expects a low-single-digit increase in sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, for December.

Catalog sales are expected to decline 20 percent for November, with sales at its Eckerd drugstore unit estimated to increase 6 percent in November. Shares of Plano, Texas-based Penney jumped 6.4 percent in trading Monday.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT: up $0.51 to $54.41, Research, Estimates), the world's biggest retailer, got a major pop from the weekend. Shares of the Bentonville, Ark.-based Dow component jumped more than 4 percent in early New York Stock Exchange trading Monday after the company reported $1.43 billion in sales on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a one-day record.

"The strong start to the holiday season is a reassuring sign that the consumer is very much connected with this holiday season and can be enticed to spend by retailers," said Michael Niemira, lead consultant to the ShopperTrak survey.

Top gifts over the weekend included books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games, clothing and accessories, and home decor or home furnishings, according to the survey.

Just 19 percent of those surveyed bought gift certificates over the weekend, an item expected to be one of the season's top sellers. This means the certificates could prove a popular last-minute gift option, the NRF said.

Apparel was the top gift choice for women, with 45.3 percent of those surveyed buying clothing and accessories over the weekend. Among men, 38.2 percent bought books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games.

"Taking a look at shopping patterns, we see that consumers are either taking advantage of bargains to purchase items for themselves, or perhaps they are subconsciously buying items for others that they would like to receive themselves," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy at BIGresearch, which tracks consumer patterns.

Discount chains appear to be driving the majority of sales, the NRF said, predicting 49 percent of consumers will shop discount stores, 30.6 percent will shop department stores, 33.2 percent will go online, and 27.2 percent will visit specialty stores. Also, 16 percent will shop from catalogs.

Separately, Nielsen/NetRatings said 18 percent more Web users shopped online on Black Friday compared with the daily average for last Monday through Thursday. That's a decline from the 22 percent increase in the same period a year ago.

But another survey by online comparison shopping site showed that Internet Black Friday sales spiked 61 percent compared with the same day a year ago. Web surfers spent $234.2 million on digital cameras, camcorders, action figures and other toys, electronics and games, said, adding that it expects Dec. 9 to be the peak online shopping day for the season, with sales of $387.7 million. That's well above the $253.8 million sales reported a year ago.

Shoppers jumped for big Black Friday bargains this weekend. Cheryl Lee, left, of Quincy, Mass., and Joan Lineman, right, of Watertown, Mass.,  lug their Christmas finds from the Arsenal Mall in Watertown Friday.  
Shoppers jumped for big Black Friday bargains this weekend. Cheryl Lee, left, of Quincy, Mass., and Joan Lineman, right, of Watertown, Mass., lug their Christmas finds from the Arsenal Mall in Watertown Friday.

November online sales are up 37 percent from a year ago to $5.4 billion, according to BizRate.

Though shopping was brisk over the weekend, it was bargain-driven, supporting some analysts' views that retailers must resort to heavy discounting early on to entice shoppers to spend. Merchants used all sorts of gimmicks from early-hour "doorbuster" specials to having scantily-clad greeters meet shoppers at the door. Some believe promotions like this will be necessary throughout the season, not just in the last week before Christmas when many shoppers hope to find the biggest bargains.

"The anecdotal evidence would indicate that traffic was not excessively busy," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Consulting Group. "And what consumers were looking for was the sales sign. They looked at the price tag before they looked at the product."

Worried about the effects of a sluggish economy, retailers have kept inventories tight all year, including orders for the holiday season. That means shoppers will find a bonanza of bargains, but they could be out of luck if they wait for better deals later in the season.

The NRF said Monday it continues to expect a 4 percent increase in holiday shopping season sales, with consumers spending $209.3 billion. Individually, shoppers are expected to spend $650 each on gifts, decorations, cards, candy and food, up from $632 last year.  Top of page

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