Holiday shoppers show restraint

Industry trade group says Black Friday discounts drew big crowds but not big spenders. But Cyber Monday sales expected to break record.

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By Parija B. Kavilanz, senior writer

NEW YORK ( ) -- Although deep discounts brought out much bigger crowds of holiday bargain hunters, a major retail trade group said Sunday that shoppers actually spent less money this year over the crucial Thanksgiving weekend.

The National Retail Foundation's (NRF's) 2007 Black Friday Weekend Survey said more than 147 million shoppers hit the stores over the Black Friday weekend, up 4.8 percent from last year.

However, the trade group said consumers, on average, spent an estimated $347.44 in total on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, down 3.5 percent from the previous year.

The NRF's projection put a damper on some earlier estimates, including one from MasterCard Advisors on Friday that estimated Black Friday purchases to hit $20 billion this year, up from $19.1 billion last year.

Also, ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, said Saturday that total sales rose 8.3 percent to about $10.3 billion on Black Friday, compared with $9.5 billion on the same day a year ago.

"While last year showed a greater emphasis on high-definition televisions, this year consumers were focused on lower-priced doorbusters like digital photo frames, laptops and cashmere sweaters," NRF CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.

Industry analysts said retailers this year are especially challenged to drive sales in the coming weeks as many Americans struggle to find spending money amid the ongoing housing downturn and other economic pressures.

"Though Black Friday weekend was a complete success for many retailers, the results of the holiday season won't be determined until the last two weeks of December," Mullin said.

While many malls opened their doors to throngs of discount shoppers at midnight, several retailers, including J.C. Penney (Charts, Fortune 500) and Kohl's (Charts, Fortune 500), kicked off Black Friday as early as 4 a.m. this year.

The NRF said the early openings paid off with 14.3 percent of consumers out shopping before 4 a.m. this year compared to 12.4 percent last year.

Men outspent women on so-called "doorbuster deals," especially on electronics. The group said male shoppers spent $393.63 on Friday compared to $303.95 by women shoppers.

In terms of where people shopped, the NRF said 55.1 percent of shoppers visited discount stores, 38.7 percent shopped in traditional department stores, 43.2 percent hit specialty retailers for sales while 31.6 percent of shoppers went online for their gift buying.

Clothes, books, videogames, consumer electronics and toys were the most popular purchases over the weekend.

Black Friday is so named because it's when retailers traditionally begin posting their annual profit, a reflection of the holiday season's importance to the retail industry.

The NRF estimates that one in 12 consumers, or 8.2 percent, has finished their holiday shopping. The group expects total holiday sales for the November-December period will rise 4 percent to $474.5 billion, its slowest growth rate in five years.

The NRF survey was conducted from Nov. 22-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent.

Meanwhile, online retailers are bracing for their kickoff to holiday shopping on Cyber Monday.

The NRF expects 72 million consumers will shop online from home or at work on Monday for after-Thanksgiving bargains.

ComScore Networks said Sunday that it expects Cyber Monday sales to surpass $700 million, making it the heaviest online spending day on record.

Video games and consoles - includingNintendo's (Charts) Wii, Sony (Charts)'s PlayStation 3 and the popular game Halo 3 - are expected to be the top online purchases on Monday followed by furniture and appliances, consumer electronics and clothing.  To top of page

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