Black Friday Weekend Traffic Up 17%

More than 172 million shoppers visited stores and Web sites over Black Friday weekend, up from 147 million shoppers last year, a 17 percent increase, according to the National Retail Federation‘s 2008 Black Friday Weekend survey.

Shoppers spent an average of $372.57 this weekend (which includes projections for Sunday spending), up 7.2 percent over last year’s $347.55, according to the survey, conducted by BIGresearch. Total spending reached an estimated $41 billion.

“Pent-up demand on electronics and clothing, plus unparalleled bargains on this season’s hottest items helped drive shopping all weekend,” said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and chief executive officer. “Holiday sales are not expected to continue at this brisk pace, but it is encouraging that Americans seem excited to go shopping again.”

Friday was clearly the busiest day of the weekend with 73.6 million people hitting stores and Web sites for sales, NRF said. Though traffic did subside after Friday, retailers were also buoyed by two-day sales as 56.9 million people shopped on Saturday, up from 48.3 million last year, while another 26.2 million people planned to shop on Sunday. Thanksgiving Day also continues to increase in importance as the number of people who shopped on Thursday was up 48 percent over last year (16.2 million people vs. 10.9 million people).

The survey found that 23.3 percent of shoppers were at stores by 5 a.m. while more than 57 percent were at stores by 9 a.m.

Bargains appeared to be so good that people have more of a jumpstart on shopping. According to the findings, Americans have completed more slightly shopping than they had one year ago (39.3% vs. 36.4%), indicating that traffic and sales over the next several weeks will moderate.

“Though retailers should be encouraged by strong traffic and sales over the weekend, consumers are still being cautious,” said Phil Rist, executive vice president, Strategic Initiatives, BIGresearch. “Weekend shoppers indicated that they are still sticking to a budget and thinking carefully before making any holiday purchases.”

According to the survey, more than half 54 percent of weekend shoppers visited discount stores. About 43 percent shopped at a traditional department store, up 11.1 percent from 38.7 percent last year. About one-third of shoppers visited specialty stores like clothing or electronics stores (36%) and shopped online (34%).

As expected, many shoppers (50.9%) purchased clothing and accessories over the weekend while 39 percent bought books, DVDs, CDs, and video games and 36 percent purchased consumer electronics. Toys were also big sellers, as 28.5 percent of shoppers bought a toy. Gift card purchasing dropped ten percent with 18.7 percent of shoppers purchasing a gift card over the weekend, down from 21 percent last year.

NRF projects that holiday sales will rise 2.2 percent this year to $470.4 billion.