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story.lead_photo.caption A Best Buy employee gives instructions to shoppers Friday morning as they wait for the store on Chenal Parkway in west Little Rock to open. Retailers around the country reported better-than-expected results from the five-day Thanksgiving weekend shopping period. - Photo by Staton Breidenthal

The biggest shopping weekend of the year produced better-than-expected results as consumers wandered through stores and surfed online shelves in search of Christmas deals.

An estimated 174 million Americans shopped over the five-day span between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, according to a survey released by the National Retail Federation and Proper Insights and Analytics. The turnout topped the retail trade group's earlier projections that about 164 million Americans would shop over the five-day period.

Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation, said he believes consumer confidence, a strong economy and favorable weather all played a role in the weekend results released Tuesday. So, too, did the efforts retailers have made to attract shoppers to their websites and stores.

"We don't necessarily draw a straight line from this weekend to the rest of the holiday season for a variety of reasons," Shay said during a conference call with reporters. "A lot of things can change between now and then. But we're certainly encouraged that we're starting off from a position of strength. ... I think that does bode well for the rest of the year."

The National Retail Federation did not produce data estimating the total amount spent by U.S. consumers online and in stores. But the group said the average amount spent per person was $335.47 with 75 percent of it going toward gifts.

Sales occurred over multiple platforms as online shopping continued to gain strength. There were 58 million consumers who only shopped online compared with 51 million who stuck to the stores, according to the data. But the largest number of consumers -- 64 million -- shopped both online and in stores over the five-day stretch.

Those customers also spent more, according to the federation. The multichannel shopper spent $82 more on average than those who only shopped online. They spent $49 more on average than in-store-only shoppers.

"Gone are the days when you could measure the success of this weekend or, for that matter, the success of retail more broadly speaking by looking through a single metric," Shay said. "We saw that play out over the weekend."

Neil Stern, a senior partner at Chicago-based McMillan-Doolittle, experienced it firsthand as national retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Amazon.com and Target Corp. competed for sales by offering discounts and promotions. Stern said he shopped both online and in stores -- sometimes simultaneously -- on Black Friday in search of the best deals.

"The number of people who do both is going to continue to rise," Stern said. "Not only continue to rise, but when you look at the growth in mobile, it's going to continue to rise in a seamless way."

The National Retail Federation released its shopping update a day after Adobe Analytics reported online spending had soared to a record level during Cyber Monday.

The research firm said the $6.59 billion spent on a day dedicated to e-commerce was a 16.8 percent increase from a year ago and resulted in the largest U.S. online shopping day in history. Adobe, which measures 80 percent of online transactions from 100 major U.S. retailers, said Americans have spent $50 billion online since Christmas deals were first offered on Nov. 1 and online spending throughout the Christmas season is expected to top $100 billion for the first time.

A growing number of those purchases have taken place on smartphones and tablets as consumers grow more comfortable stepping away from desktop computers to search for deals.

The National Retail Federation reported that 63 percent of smartphone owners used their mobile devices to make Christmas gift decisions and 29 percent used their phones to purchase items last weekend.

"Shopping and buying on smartphones is becoming the new norm and can be attributed to continued optimizations in the retail experience on mobile devices and platforms," Mickey Mericle, Adobe's vice president of marketing and customer insights, said in a statement. "Consumers are also becoming more savvy and efficient online shoppers. People increasingly know where to find the best deals and what they want to purchase, which results in less price matching behavior typically done on desktops."

Meanwhile, the continued boom of online shopping coincided with a decline in store visits as a growing number of shoppers elected to stay at home and avoid the crowds over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Retail research firm ShopperTrak said store traffic fell 1.6 percent on Thanksgiving and Black Friday compared with the same two days last year. But the firm added the decline in traffic was less than 1 percent on Black Friday, evidence that stores still remain an integral part of the busy shopping period.

McMillan-Doolittle's Stern said the in-store performance was better than anticipated and contributed to what was an upbeat weekend across retail.

"You did see the expected surge in online shopping and the fact that Cyber Monday was a record day doesn't surprise anybody," Stern said. "But the fact that physical retail kind of held its own, that was a bit of a surprise and a fairly good sign that we could see a decent holiday."

Earlier this year, the National Retail Federation projected Christmas spending to increase between 3.6 percent and 4 percent to about $680 billion. The federation said it was sticking to those projections as retailers move into what Shay described as the "halftime break of the holiday season."

He said 91 percent of consumers still have shopping to do over the next month, and 90 percent of them expect promotions and discounts to be similar to those offered by retailers over Thanksgiving weekend.

"We know retailers are going to need to meet those expectations as we get deeper into the holiday season," Shay said. "And the big key is going to be capturing the momentum we've seen over the last few days and turning that consumer interest into actual sales."

A Section on 11/29/2017

Print Headline: 174 million shop in 5-day splurge; Cyber Monday sets record; in-store sales holding steady

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