Black Friday weekend: Strong start

Surveys show shoppers came out in full force, despite initial concern. Plus: Gearing up for 'Cyber Monday.'


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The holiday shopping season is off to a running start, according to surveys released this weekend, though it was still unclear how that will impact retailers' profits.

More than 140 million shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend, spending an average of $360.15, up 18.9 percent from last year's $302.81, estimated the National Retail Federation.

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A survey by ShopperTrak estimated a 6 percent sales increase overall for Friday alone, to $8.9 billion.

Wal-Mart sparked initial concerns when it released a disappointing November sales forecast on Saturday. It estimated that November sales fell 0.1 percent at its U.S. stores open at least a year - the forecast includes sales on Black Friday.

Wal-Mart and other major retailers will release final November sales reports on Thursday.

Stores enjoyed big crowds around the country on Black Friday, so called because it's when retailers are said to move out of the red (operating at a loss) and into the black. November and December account for as much as half of retailers' profits and sales.

"Each year, consumers have greater expectations for doorbuster specials, forcing retailers to raise the bar," said NRF President and CEO Tracy Mullin in a statement. "This year, stores did not disappoint."

The NRF survey said that one-third of shoppers had hit the stores by 6 a.m. and that more than half had visited at least one store by 9 a.m.

The NRF anticipates holiday sales will grow 5 percent to $457.4 billion, slower than last year's 6.1 percent increase.

J.C. Penney (Charts) said its holiday season was off to a good start, with brisk foot traffic and strong demand for categories such as home entertainment, jewelry, children's clothing and housewares, Reuters said.

The question is how much of the ringing at cash registers came from heavily discounted goods.

"You already know it's a high traffic day," Laura Richardson, a consumer analyst at BB&T Capital Markets, told Reuters on Saturday. "What I'm looking at is traffic relative to what I'm used to seeing and the promotional efforts retailers are making. A lot of companies I follow are cutting (prices) more than last year and not getting great traffic. That's not a great sign for sales or profits."

Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis at MasterCard's SpendingPulse, told Reuters that while hot items such as the PlayStation 3 video game system have generated considerable buzz, they are only a tiny portion of retailers' overall sales. He said rather than focusing on Black Friday crowds, investors should pay close attention to October sales trends, which showed a dramatic slowdown in growth year-over-year heading into the holiday season.

"You're looking at (sales) growth rates that are about half of what they were last year," he said. "The momentum that we have coming in is definitely down several notches."

Hitting the Web

This Monday is dubbed "Cyber Monday," for when shoppers hit the Web to search for goods they didn't find over the weekend and 'e-tailers' unveil special promotions.

A survey released Sunday by shop.org, a division of the NRF, finds that 61 million people plan to shop online on Monday.

"While traditional retailers used Black Friday promotions to pack the stores this weekend, online retailers are using Cyber Monday to debut holiday merchandise and offer virtual doorbusters," said Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.

Shop.org also found that 83 percent of e-tailers plan to offer some free-shipping promotion.

ComScore Networks estimates online retail sales over the Thanksgiving weekend are forecast to reach $1.15 billion, up 24 percent from the same period last year, while total holiday-related buying on the Internet is forecast to jump 24 percent to more than $24 billion.

Overall traffic to the Nielsen/Net Ratings Holiday eShopping Index, which tracks more than 120 online retailers, rose 12 percent on the Friday after Thanksgiving over the same day last year, according to the online audience measurement firm. That, however, was below the pace of 29 percent for the same period last year.

The most popular e-commerce site, with 7.5 million unique visitors on Black Friday, was eBay (Charts).

Wal-Mart vs. everybody

Wal-Mart (Charts) unveiled its big holiday deals weeks ahead of Black Friday, slashing prices on popular merchandise such as toys, gadgets, flat-screen TVs and home appliances.

Wal-Mart also announced a slew of further discounts in the early hours of Thanksgiving, including Microsoft (Charts) Xbox 360s for $399 and KitchenAid Classic Stand Mixers for $149.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with NPD Group, said on Friday that the crowds were even bigger at some Target (Charts) stores. "I think Target outmarketed Wal-Mart," said Cohen.

-- CNNMoney.com staff writers Aaron Smith, Keisha Lamothe, Paul R. La Monica and Steve Hargreaves contributed to this report.

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-- Reuters contributed to this story.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.