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A weekend shopping spree
Indications point to a booming start to holiday season, with an estimated $22.8 billion in sales.
November 30, 2004: 8:02 AM EST

Checkout lines at KB Toys in the Fairlane Town Center of Dearborn, Mich.,  Friday.  
Checkout lines at KB Toys in the Fairlane Town Center of Dearborn, Mich., Friday.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The nation's shoppers were out in force this weekend, with double-digit percentage increases seen at both brick-and-mortar stores and online, and an estimated total of $22.8 billion in sales, reports indicated Sunday.

Shoppers persisted despite lousy weather in some parts of the country Sunday, particularly the Northeast, where wind-swept rain caused some local flooding, and the Rockies, where snow hampered travel.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, said about 86 million people made a total of 133 million shopping trips this weekend, about the number expected, with the $22.8 billion spent representing more than 10 percent of the sales projected for the full holiday season.

On average, the NRF said shoppers spent $265.15 each.

"Retailers know that the holiday season is not a sprint, it's a marathon," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin in a statement. "Black Friday weekend is just the beginning of a month-long race to the finish line."

Visa, the No. 1 issuer of credit cards, said sales rung up on its cards Black Friday -- so called because it's when retailers are said to finally move out of the red, representing losses, and into the black, symbolizing profits -- and Saturday rose 14.3 percent from last year to more than $7.4 billion.

"The numbers Visa has seen over the Friday and Saturday period are encouraging, but we will continue to watch over the next several weeks to see if the positive trends hold true," Visa USA Vice President Paul Cohen said in a statement. "Based on the data Visa has seen to date, we remain cautiously optimistic that this will be a good holiday season for merchants." 

Visa's rival, MasterCard International, said Sunday that the number of credit transactions this weekend was up 9.3 percent from last year, with a 10.1 percent increase on Black Friday alone.

Online sales rose sharply, with a 100 percent increase on Thanksgiving Day and a 41 percent rise on Black Friday, according to figures from online merchant research firm comScore Networks.

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Holiday sales are expected to grow between 4 to 6 percent this year. CNN's Allan Chernoff takes a closer look.

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Based on the strength of the reports so far, comScore projects online retail sales will grow 23 to 26 percent to between $15.1 billion and $15.5 billion for the November-December holiday season.

The biggest single day could be what the firm calls "Black Monday," the day after everyone returns to work from the Thanksgiving holiday. In 2003, it accounted for $300 million in sales, compared with $553 million for the Thanksgiving weekend.

But the cloud in the bright picture came Saturday from Wal-Mart (Research), which lowered its sales estimates for November after seeing customer traffic decline toward the end of the week that ended Friday.

The company said it now expects to report a 0.7 percent increase in November same-store sales, less than the 2 to 4 percent gain it has been projecting for most of this month (click here for more details).

So what, where are people buying?

Despite the Wal-Mart report, the NRF and Visa both told of strong sales at discounters, with the NRF indicating 61.8 percent of shoppers visiting a mass retailer and Visa seeing a 20 percent sales increase among such stores.

According to the NRF, apparel was the No. 1 buying category this weekend, with 49.1 percent of consumers buying clothes or accessories. Media, such as books, CDs, DVDs and video games, came in second at 45.5 percent. About 31.2 percent of consumers bought electronic gifts.

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Visa said it continues to see strong sales in the travel and entertainment segment, indicating people may be getting cruises, resort stays and other kinds of trips this holiday season. The issuer said the number of travel and entertainment transactions in the Friday-Saturday period rose 27.3 percent from last year.

Breaking down purchases, Visa said sales on debit cards were up 20.2 percent over last year, while credit card sales were 8.8 percent higher. Cohen told CNN/Money Saturday that this means there will "less of a holiday hangover" of debt when the season ends.

Crowds in the malls

Anecdotally, Black Friday looked big. Shoppers gathered in the dark at mall parking lots for sales at department stores, discounters and specialty merchants.

"There were lines three to four people deep for about a 100 yards outside Sears and KB Toys at 5 a.m.," said Jeff Odom, marketing director with Hamilton Place in Chattanooga, one of Tennessee's largest malls. It looks like this year people are out much earlier than last year."

In New York's Times Square, an estimated 2,500-3,000 shoppers jammed the huge Toys "R" Us flagship store by 9 a.m. to grab whatever bargains they could (click here for related story).

Toys "R" Us said Saturday that among its top-selling toys this weekend were Dora the Explorer Magic Hair Fairytale Dora and Hokey Pokey Elmo from Fisher-Price, Polly Pocket Relaxin Resort Rock 'N Roller Coaster Hotel from Mattel, and the RC Ford F-350 from Fast Lane.

ShopperTrak, differing from Visa, said Black Friday could prove to be the biggest shopping day of the season for the second straight year. But the firm wonders whether the big increase will carry through for the four weeks until Christmas Day is uncertain.

"Black Friday is not always considered to be a particularly good predictor for the rest of the season, as factors like weather, discounting patterns, inventory, and general economic conditions come into play," said Michael Niemira, chief economist and director of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers. 

"Nevertheless, after Friday's robust performance, the retail industry is cautiously optimistic as the holiday shopping season begins," he added.

CNN.com: Planning is key to shopping success

Click here

Unlike last year, when shoppers missed out on the big bargains and bought seasonal merchandise that was near full price, consumers this year were treated to deep discounts as early as the first weekend in November.

Industry analysts already anticipate more aggressive promotions this year. While that bodes well for consumers, it's a riskier bet for retailers because steep discounts that spur sales also erode profits.

The NRF expects total sales for the November-December shopping period to grow 4.5 percent to $219.9 billion, softer than last year's increase of 5.1 percent. The consensus among analysts is that total spending for the two months will grow about 4 percent.

The two-month period together can represent as much as 50 percent of sales and profit for merchants.  Top of page




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