Sunday, December 6, 2009

More Shoppers Hit Stores, but Spend Less Each

Posted by Michael Rivezzo

Many more shoppers turned out for the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season over Thanksgiving weekend than a year ago, but they spent less each and favored lower-priced items.

That's a mixed bag for the beleaguered retail industry, which hopes that tight inventory combined with targeted bargains will ring up better results than last year's gloomy holiday season.

Roughly 195 million consumers shopped in stores and online over the Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. But average spending dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago.

Overall sales for the four-day weekend totaled $41.2 billion, up marginally from $41 billion last year, the NRF estimated. The trade group bases its figures on a survey, conducted Thursday through Saturday, of roughly 5,000 consumers and includes a projection for Sunday.

"The appetite among consumers this year seems to trend toward the lower-price items, the items they could literally afford with the money they already have in their wallet," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the Washington-based retail group, which has predicted a 1% decrease in November and December sales this year over last.

The holiday season—when many retailers make the bulk of their sales and profits for the year—is being closely watched by economists and others as an indicator of whether consumers are still deeply worried about the economy and unemployment, and are hampered by tight credit. After a disastrous season last year, retailers have ratcheted down sales expectations while slimming their stocks and filling the shelves with cheaper goods.
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