holiday shopping

In another sign that retailers had a good start to the holiday season, the National Retail Federation said Tuesday that a record 189.6 million U.S. consumers shopped from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, an increase of 14 percent over last year’s 165.8 million.

“Americans continue to start their holiday shopping earlier in the year, and Thanksgiving is still a critical weekend for millions,” NRF president and chief executive officer Matthew Shay said. “Whether they’re looking for something unique on Main Street, making a trip to the store or searching for the best deals from their mobile device, this is when shoppers shift into high gear. With the condensed holiday season, consumers are feeling the pressure to get their shopping done in time. Even those who typically wait until the last minute to purchase gifts turned out in record numbers all weekend long.”

Over the weekend, several retailers told WWD that they were generally pleased with the level of holiday season shopping so far, while expressing concerns that there are six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year compared to 2018. To compensate, they extended Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals to days before and after the actual days themselves but the discounts don’t seem much deeper than last year’s. The healthy economy and colder weather are also spurring holiday shopping, although later this week, a lull in holiday shopping, which typically occurs in early days of December, is expected. Activity should pick up around Dec. 17.

According to the NRF, which partners with Prosper Insights & Analytics on gathering consumer purchasing data, shoppers spent an average $361.90 on holiday items over the five-day period, up 16 percent from $313.29 during the same period last year.

Of the total, $257.33 (71 percent) was specifically spent on gifts. The biggest spenders were 25-to-34-year-olds at $440.46, closely followed by those aged 35 to 44 at $439.72.

The information is derived from the NRF/Prosper survey of 6,746 adult consumers conducted last Wednesday through this Monday. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points.

The survey found that 124 million people shopped in stores while 142.2 million shopped on retailers’ web sites. Also, 75.7 million people shopped both channels. Those shopping both channels spent an average of $366.79, spending at least 25 percent more than those who shopped in only one or the other.

Black Friday was the busiest day for in-store activity, with 84.2 million shoppers. “Small Business Saturday” was the second biggest with 59.9 million hitting the stores.

Thanksgiving Day saw 37.8 million in the stores, while on Sunday, when snow and rain hit the East Coast, 29.2 million hit the stores.

For the first time, Black Friday topped Cyber Monday as the busiest day for online at 93.2 million shoppers compared with 83.3 million. Saturday followed at 58.2 million, Thanksgiving Day at 49.7 million and Sunday at 43.1 million.

The NRF indicated that with online and in-store shopping increasingly intermingled, free shipping was the biggest reason for shoppers to make a purchase they were otherwise hesitant about, cited by 49 percent, up from 42 percent last year.

Also popular was BOPIS, order online and pick up in-store, which was cited by 20 percent of shoppers, up from 15 percent last year, as an important factor on where and what to buy.

Other top factors included limited-time sales or promotions (36 percent) and an easy-to-use web site or app (21 percent).

“The growth in online retail sales is a tide that lifts everybody,” Prosper executive vice president of strategy Phil Rist said. “When consumers are buying from retailers online but picking up or making returns in-store, it is more and more difficult to distinguish between the sales retailers make in their stores and the ones they make on their web sites.”

Top gift purchases over the weekend were apparel, bought by 58 percent of those surveyed; toys, 33 percent; electronics, 31 percent; books/music/movies/video games, 28 percent, and gift cards, 27 percent.

Shopping destinations included department stores, visited by 50 percent of those surveyed; clothing stores, 36 percent; grocery stores, 34 percent; electronics stores, 32 percent; and discount stores, 29 percent.

On average, consumers had completed 52 percent of their shopping, up from 44 percent during the same weekend last year, although Thanksgiving came six days earlier in 2018. The survey found only 39 percent of shoppers believe deals seen over the Thanksgiving weekend will get better throughout the rest of the season.

NRF defines the holiday season as Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 and has forecast that sales will total between $727.9 and $730.7 billion.

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