By  on November 26, 2007

Hold your breath. This is going to be a hairy holiday season for retailers, one marked by see-sawing sales, market share warfare, profit concerns amid steep price promotions and a lot of angst and uncertainty.

But in the aftermath of Black Friday weekend, there's a sense of relief in the air.

The weekend got retailers off to a better-than-expected start — fueled by presunrise openings, a sharp temperature drop into the 30s, a battery of new marketing techniques and discount ploys and the frenzy of media coverage. Strong sales were particularly the case at big tourist-driven flagships in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where strong traffic and sales compensated for less-robust performances in outlaying locations.

ShopperTrak RCT Corp. reported that U.S. sales on Black Friday rose 8.3 percent to $10.3 billion from $9.5 billion last year. But apparel generally remained weak, apart from some designer labels and contemporary styles. The winner, as in past years, was the electronics category, driven by GPS systems, digital photo frames and flat-screen TVs priced under $1,000. In clothing and accessories, fashion outerwear, patterned cashmeres, day dresses, cold-weather accessories, contemporary sportswear, and jewelry, particularly diamonds, were the standouts. Ironically, few retailers cited gift cards though they are bound to be big as gift-hunters get desperate.

More than 147 million shoppers hit the stores on Black Friday weekend (Thursday through Sunday), up 4.8 percent from last year, according to a National Retail Federation estimate based on a poll taken by BIG Research of 2,595 consumers November 22-24.

"Every year I go to a different stores on Black Friday," said Ron Klein, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy's East. "This year, I drove past many in New Jersey. Anecdotally speaking, and this is completely unscientific, I would say that people waiting for the openings was a visually larger scene than in the last few years."

Less impressive was the actual dollars being spent, nationwide. Consumers shelled out, on average, $347.44, down 3.5 percent from last year, according to the NRF. Nevertheless, the trade organization believes retailers made up for the lower average expenditure with increased traffic.

"She may be spending less, and I don't mind that as long as she's spending more with us," said Terry Lundgren, Macy's Inc. chairman, ceo and president. "Taking market share is totally our focus."

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