Business

Shoppers gobble up Thanksgiving weekend deals

Dec. 1, 2013 at 4:16 PM ET


Shoppers check out a list of sale items while waiting in a line for a Best Buy to open on Thanksgiving Day in Alexandria, Va.
MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA
Shoppers check out a list of sale items while waiting in a line for a Best Buy to open on Thanksgiving Day in Alexandria, Va.

Holiday shopping on Thanksgiving Day this year turned out to be just about as popular as turkey and mashed potatoes.

Eager to snag deals, about 45 million shoppers (31.8 percent) shopped on turkey day — an increase of 27 percent, according to the National Retail Federation. About a quarter of shoppers, 25.4 percent, say they were at stores by 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.

Shoppers line up for Black Friday deals on Nov. 29 to get into a store on 5th Avenue in New York City.
CARLO ALLEGRI / Reuters
Shoppers line up for Black Friday deals on Nov. 29 to get into a store on 5th Avenue in New York City.

However, Black Friday remained the most popular holiday shopping day as about 92 million Americans, or 65.2 percent, visited retail stores or shopped online, up from nearly 89 million last year. Overall, more than 141 million Americans were expected to shop over the weekend in search of deals, slightly up from 139 million last year.

“Thanksgiving deals and shopping both in stores and online has evolved over the last decade to something that’s much more than a fad," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. "It’s now become a critical part of the overall weekend."

Major retailers such as Macy's, Kohl's and J.C. Penney broke with tradition and opened their doors on the actual holiday. Because Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 28, the latest possible date, the "official" holiday shopping season — which traditionally has kicked off on Black Friday — is six days shorter than last year.

“The official holiday season this year is so short … retailers had to be really creative as to how they would connect with consumers,” Shay said.

Many shoppers actually have been doing their holiday shopping for months, Shay said. As for whether retailers will open their doors on Thanksgiving next year, he said it's still too early to tell. 

Online shopping remains a big part of the holiday weekend, with about 59 million Americans indicating that they purchased items online, according to the NRF. ComScore, an analytics firm whose data is closely watched by Wall Street, said online sales in the U.S. rose a total of 17.3 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Walmart reported that Thanksgiving Day was the highest traffic day in Walmart.com's history, at nearly 400 million page views.  

The NRF survey, conducted Nov. 29-30 by Prosper Insights & Analytics, polled 4,464 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percent. 

Low prices helped keep budgets in check as the average shopper spent an estimated $407.02 from Thursday through Sunday, down from $423.55 in 2012. Total spending is estimated to reach $57.4 billion, a 2.9 percent decline over the $59.1 billion that shoppers spent last year during the holiday weekend.

Among the most popular items purchased were apparel and accessories; electronics, books, CDs and other media; and toys, said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director at Prosper Insights and Analytics. Gift card purchases were slightly down, 29.6 percent compared to 32.6 percent in 2012.

“I think gift cards this year might be that perfect last-minute gift,” she said.

About 76 percent of shoppers were also out buying for themselves, down from about 80 percent a year ago, she said. However, most shoppers remain budget conscious.

“I think the general theme for this year is that shoppers are really watching what they spend and trying to have a holiday on a budget,” she said.

Retailers and shoppers now shift their focus to Cyber Monday — and the rest of the holiday shopping season.

“We’re confident there are still plenty of opportunities for the one-day deals that retailers have set aside for Cyber Monday,” Shay said.

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