Black Friday weekend 'very busy'; Thanksgiving sales break records

The Thanksgiving and Black Friday back-to-back shopping events proved to be more popular with Americans than they were last year, according to industry data.

The National Retail Federation pegged the number of unique shoppers Thursday through Sunday at more than 141 million, up from 139 million last year. Many shopped multiple times, resulting in more than 248 million people waiting in line, up from 247 million in 2012, according to the trade group.

Average spending per shopper, however, fell to $407.02 from $423.55 last year.

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Foot traffic on Thanksgiving was up 27% to nearly 45 million people. Last year, 35 million consumers went shopping on the holiday. A quarter of all weekend shoppers were in position at stores by 8 p.m. on Thursday.

Black Friday was by far the biggest consumption day, with more than 92 million shoppers, compared with 89 million last year.

More than three-quarters of Americans ages 18 to 34 were likely to hit stores or retail websites over the four-day stretch, according to the retail trade group.

"By most accounts, it looked like a very busy weekend," Shawn DuBravac, chief economist of the Consumer Electronics Assn., said in a conference call with reporters Sunday.

The trade group said that 131 million adults did or said they would shop before the weekend was out. Thanksgiving saw 41 million adults out spending money, compared to 21 million last year.  

Among technology gifts, tablets were most popular, purchased by 39% of shoppers who bought electronics over the weekend, according to the CEA. The gadgets are already in 45% of homes -- a percentage that might leap to 55% by the end of the year, DuBravac said.

Wal-Mart sold 1.4 million tablets on Thanksgiving alone. DuBravac said he saw nearly 300 tablet-related promotions over the weekend -- up from less than 200 last year.

A quarter of electronics shoppers bought notebook computers, while retailers saw deep lines of consumers hoping to get newly purchased smartphones activated. Recent launches of the XBox One and PS4 drove sales of video game consoles.

Portable wireless speakers were popular, though interest in televisions slid, the CEA said.

Sunday, when hordes of travelers head back home, is likely to show a lull in purchases after 63 million people shopped on Saturday, according to the CEA. But the week that follows is expected to spark another shopping surge, with 46 million shoppers expected for Cyber Monday -- up from 34 million last year.

What used to be a very defined shopping period that extended from Black Friday through Cyber Monday is now blurring, with retailers launching their door-buster ads earlier and rolling out deals later into December, DuBravac said.

"Retailers are trying to encourage consumers to come back into stores following the massive sales and promotions around Black Friday," he said. "I expect that type of promotion will increase in the years ahead."

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The ploy by retailers to open earlier on Thanksgiving seems to have worked, DuBravac said, though he said the creep into dinner time is likely to slow or stall next year.

"We may see retailers settle in around that 8 p.m. period," he said. "Consumers seem to have responded to those early openings."

This year, Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Saturday were "looking good for both brick and click retailers," according to a Sunday blog post from Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group.