Retail sales were stronger than expected over the Thanksgiving holiday as shoppers crammed early-morning sales and hit their computers to shop online.
Retailers hope that online shopping today, known as Cyber Monday, will be just as brisk. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates 72 million consumers plan to shop online from home or at work today, up 18 percent from last year.
But the early positive trend may not hold for the entire Christmas shopping season, analysts say.
“It won’t necessarily carry through,” says Michael McNamara, vice president of MasterCard’s Spending Pulse report. “Once we get past this weekend, we’ll see the longer term economic story — the worries about higher gas prices and a slowing economy — start to affect consumers.”
MasterCard expects retail sales to grow 3.5 to 4 percent for the season, versus a 6 percent increase in 2006.
Stores and malls drew bigger-than-expected crowds Friday for discounted flat-panel TVs, digital cameras and toys such as all things related to Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana.” Strong sales continued through Saturday, according to one research group that tracks total sales at retail outlets across the country.
“This was a really good start. … There seemed to be a lot of pent-up demand,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, which tracks total sales at more than 50,000 outlets.
ShopperTrak reported Sunday that Friday and Saturday sales combined rose 7.2 percent to $16.4 billion from the same two days a year ago.
Total sales on Friday, the day retailers hope sends them into the black for the year, rose to $10.3 billion, up 8.3 percent from the same day a year ago. Martin had expected increases no greater than 5 percent.
But the NRF reported that shoppers over the holiday spent an average $347 per person, or 3.5 percent less than a year earlier.
Internet research firm comScore reported a 22 percent gain in online sales Friday compared with the same day a year ago and estimated online sales would exceed $700 million online today.
So-called Cyber Monday isn’t the biggest online shopping day of the year; that’s the second Monday in December, according to eBay.
But retailers unveil a lot of one-day sales on Cyber Monday to bring consumers to their Web sites, says Scott Silverman, executive director of Shop.org.
Free and premium shipping offers are popular this year. Seattle-based Blue Nile recently unveiled free FedEx priority overnight shipping.
Amazon.com spokesman Craig Berman said the Seattle-based retailer is stepping up convenience measures for the holiday season — including 99-cent gift wrap — in addition to free “Super Saver Shipping” on most orders of $25 or more.
Silverman said it’s incentives like these that help make online shopping more appealing to traditional “brick-and-mortar” shoppers.
Despite the weekend jump, the NRF has predicted that consumer concerns about higher gasoline prices, a volatile stock market and declining home values will put a damper on spending this year.
“We won’t be surprised when [sales] settle back into a more modest trend,” said McNamara from MasterCard.
“Clearly, it was mission-based shopping,” Crawford said. “People had their list, and they were very specific in what they were looking for.” [24×7]
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