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Hope for strong weekend yet
Survey finds shoppers plan to spend nearly $28 billion over the weekend, up 22% from last year.
November 27, 2005: 8:46 PM EST
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Retail sales are expected to jump 22 percent to nearly $28 billion over the Thanksgiving weekend, a retail group said Sunday, which would be a welcome relief to stores worried about a sluggish start to the holiday shopping season on Black Friday.

The average shopper was planning to spend $302.81 this weekend, which would bring total weekend spending to $27.8 billion, a 21.9 percent increase over last year's $22.8 billion, the National Retail Federation said.

The federation, a group of the nation's largest retailers, cited a survey of 4,209 consumers conducted for it by market research firm BIGresearch on Friday and Saturday.

"As expected, retailers offered substantial discounts and savings on Black Friday to bring people into their stores and consumers held up their end of the bargain by shopping," NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.

The group said that more than 60 million shoppers headed to the stores on Black Friday, up 7.9 percent from last year.

Another 52.8 million shopped on Saturday, up 13.3 percent, and another 22 million were expected to be out Sunday, about in line with the turnout last year, the NRF said.

The survey results follow earlier mixed reports about Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, so called since it's when many retailers start moving into the black for the year.

The holiday selling season is crucial for merchants, accounting for half or more of annual sales and profits at many chains.

ShopperTrak, a retail research group, said on Saturday that the holiday season's first major shopping day got off to a relatively flat start Friday compared to a strong 2004, despite special promotions, discounts and expanded hours.

Data from ShopperTrak showed Black Friday sales were down 0.9 percent from a year ago to $8 billion. ShopperTrak said sales in the South were particularly good with the Midwest coming in second. Major retailers will release November results later this week.

"With heavy discounting by non-mall retailers combined with the extended shopping season in 2005, consumers may not feel the pressure to shop early this holiday season," ShopperTrak said in a statement. (Full story).

But Wal-Mart (Research), the nation's largest retailer, said that its sales were strong the day after Thanksgiving, coming in above its own forecasts.

While it's a big weekend for retailers, consumers are increasingly waiting until the last minute to shop, so the Saturday before Christmas has become the busiest shopping day in recent years.

And as consumers grapple with steep energy prices and rising interest rates, investors are watching closely for any sign of a spending pullback.

"While Black Friday is important to retailers, it's not always the best indicator for consumer shopping patterns during the remainder of the holiday season, which should allow the retail industry to continue feeling optimistic," Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, told Reuters news agency Saturday.

Wal-Mart on Saturday reported better than expected post-Thanksgiving sales as consumers snapped up discounted computers and toys at the start of the crucial holiday shopping season.

Wal-Mart estimated that November sales rose 4.3 percent at its U.S. stores open at least a year, a key retail measure known as same-store sales. The figure was toward the high end of its forecast for 3 percent to 5 percent growth. (Full story).

Department store operator J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said shoppers were in a spending mood Friday and spent heavily on apparel, accessories and home gift items, adding it was optimistic for the rest of the season.

"If we see (after-Thanksgiving) sales growth over 5 or 6 percent, that's a very positive indication of a good holiday season, if they can sustain it," Darrell Rigby, head of the global retail practice for consultants Bain & Co., told Reuters.

For its part, Visa said Saturday that bargain-hungry holiday shoppers eagerly charged up their credit and debit cards on Black Friday as total U.S. spending on Visa branded cards jumped 14 percent to $3.9 billion. (Full story).

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For tips on hot holiday gifts and how much to tip this season, click here.

Plus: 33 steps to take now to get your finances in top shape. More here.  Top of page

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