Holiday Weekend Draws Record Shopper Numbers

Online shopping destinations, including Amazon, were the most popular choice during the holiday weekend.

If record spending and shopper turnout over the Thanksgiving weekend are any indication, all those retailer reports of “cautious consumers” may have been overblown.

The National Retail Federation reports that a record 200.4 million consumers shopped between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. That’s more than the 196.7 million people last year, which is also a record. And it’s a stronger turnout than the NRF’s initial forecast of 182 million shoppers.

While many retailers have struck a gloomier tone in recent earnings reports, the record-setting numbers show a steadier, healthier pace of spending.

On average, people spent $321.41, down slightly from last year.



Consumers have moderated and decelerated their purchases in the last 36 months, said Matthew Shay, president and chief executive officer of the Washington D.C.-based trade group. “But there’s a difference between 'moderation’ and 'bleak.’ So maybe instead of seeing 7% to 8% growth, it’s between 3% and 4%. That’s still slightly above the trend for the last ten years.”

He says the organization still sees plenty of strength and resilience ahead for the remainder of the season.

Top destinations for shoppers were online, at 44%, followed by grocery stores and supermarkets, at 42%; department stores, at 40%; clothing and accessories stores, at 36%, and electronics stores, at 29%. 

About 121.4 million people shopped in physical retail locations to browse or buy.

Black Friday remained the most popular day for in-store shopping, with 76.2 million brick-and-mortar shoppers, up from 72.9 million last year. More than 90 million shopped online. Only 59 million showed up in stores on Saturday, a dip from 63.4 million last year. Still, 78% of those Saturday shoppers said they were specifically turning out for Small Business Saturday.

More than half -- 55% -- say they decided to shop because of high levels of promotion. That’s up a bit from 52% last year.

It’s still too early to say how many of those promotional deals are planned, or whether retailers are nervous enough to begin ratcheting up discounts this early in the season.

“That’s the question,” Shay said. “Consumers have been much more intentional and deliberate over the last several quarters.”

He adds that retailers are well-prepared. “They know that is the nature of consumer behavior this year.”

Wedbush detected an elevated level of discounts across the retail landscape over the weekend, with its data points suggesting sales for the weekend gained in the low-to-mid single digits.

Wedbush noted that Walmart stepped up apparel discounts from 50% on Black Friday to 60% for Cyber Monday, with companies like Chewy and Petco adding new deals over the weekend.

“Incremental promotional pressure for the balance of the holiday season is not out of the question,” writes Wedbush’s retail analyst Seth Basham. “This could drive downside risk to forecasts for holiday-centric hardline retailers.”

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