By  on November 27, 2006

Christmas can wait, at least for many shoppers.

That seemed to be the mantra among the hordes of consumers who rushed to take advantage of doorbusters and other bargains during Black Friday weekend, as many preferred to shop for themselves ahead of gifts. As for presents under the tree, electronics and toys ruled the weekend once again, leaving fashion lower on shopping lists and stores poised for price slashing in the weeks ahead.

But retail executives remained upbeat about the fourth quarter, pointing to the weekend’s buoyant demand for handbags, diamond jewelry, cashmeres, party dresses and gift cards. Department and specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, J. Crew, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor were far less promotional than discounters and outlets, and no more so than last year.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2006 Black Friday Weekend Survey, conducted by the BIGresearch consumer research firm, more than 140 million shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend, spending an average of $360.15, up 18.9 percent from last year’s $302.81. “Each year, consumers have greater expectations for doorbuster specials, forcing retailers to raise the bar,” said NRF President and chief executive Tracy Mullin. “This year, stores did not disappoint as deals on high definition televisions and apparel were just too good to pass up.”

As of Sunday, the average person has completed 35.6 percent of their holiday shopping, showing no change from last year, NRF said. Only one in 12 consumers has finished their holiday shopping. NRF continues to project that holiday sales will rise 5 percent this year to $457.4 billion. The survey polled 3,090 consumers from Nov. 23 to 25.

Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation called the weekend “a good start” to a potentially robust season, citing increased consumer confidence in the economy in Southern California following the Democratic sweep in the mid-term elections. “In Southern California, the economy is very, very good. Los Angeles County unemployment is 4.3 percent — and we characterize that as beyond good employment — and the housing market didn’t tank like people thought it would.”

Even as many consumers focused on buying for themselves over the Black Friday weekend stores recognize the serious gift shopping will happen, even if it comes late in the season. Stores are generally projecting mid-single-digit gains, despite relatively mild temperatures that hurt demand for coats and cold-weather accessories during the weekend. The home market also lagged, as the housing market softens.

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