Black Friday shopping hits a new record

Survey: 247 million shoppers visit stores, sites

NEW YORK - Apparently, full stomachs after Thanksgiving dinners put people in the mood for some real shopping.

Customers flocked in to early store openings on Thanksgiving day to scoop up "doorbuster" deals. A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites in the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend this year, up 9% from 226 million last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday.

Individual shoppers also shelled out more money -- spending $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion last year, according to the NRF.

The survey found that retailers' push to open stores earlier appealed to customers. Stores like Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Sears and Target, that ushered in customers just as Thanksgiving meals wrapped up, saw a boost. About 10% of this weekend's shoppers were out at stores by 8 p.m. on Thursday and an estimated 28% of weekend shoppers were at the stores by midnight, compared to 24.4% last year.

"The only way to describe the Thanksgiving openings is to call them a huge win," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "Thanksgiving shopping has really becoming an extension of the day's activities. Whole families are going."

In a separate survey, ShopperTrak found that the number of people shopping in stores climbed 3.5% from last year to more than 307.67 million.

Bill Martin, ShopperTrak's founder, said that traffic hasn't been this high since 2006. He said that the return to pre-recession levels indicates a real recovery in consumer behavior.

"We've seen that consumers are willing to shop a few extra stores," Martin said. "This could translate into more impulse buying and stronger sales."

But not everyone wanted to wait in line. Online sales soared more than 17% on the Thursday of Thanksgiving, followed by a nearly 21% increase on Friday over last year, according to IBM Benchmark. Sales made from mobile devices climbed by 16%, with more than 24% of consumers using mobile devices to visit a retailer's website.

The NRF had predicted that looming fears over the "fiscal cliff" and the struggling jobs market could weigh on holiday spending. That's why it estimated that holiday sales will rise by 4.1%, which is slower than the 5.6% increase last year.

Shay said that between 65% and 80% of shoppers factor overall economic conditions into holiday spending decisions. Its survey found that two thirds of shoppers will pay with cash or debit, highlighting people's aversion to taking on too much debt in a still slow-recovering economy.

But retailers are hopeful that these strong Black Friday figures set a tone for a solid season of spending ahead. The Thanksgiving shopping tradition kicks off the holiday season sales blitz, wherein stores can make up to 40% of their annual sales in the November-December period.

"A single day doesn't make up a holiday season, but if you don't start off well on that day, you have trouble catching up," Martin said.