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Early Promotions and E-Commerce Growth Depress Black Friday Sales

Pre Black Friday promotions and consumers’ increased comfort with shopping online kept the crowds at bay this past weekend in stores and on e-commerce sites across the U.S., despite a strengthening economy and lower gas prices that left more money in people’s wallets.

According to a Thanksgiving Weekend Spending Survey conducted for the National Retail Federation by Prosper Insights & Analytics, fewer people were shopping in stores or online this year than last. Overall shopper traffic from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday Nov. 30 dropped by 5.2% from 141.1 million in 2013 to 133.7 million unique holiday shoppers this year. Total shopping trips were also down this year, by 6 percent.

The trade group estimated that total spending for the weekend fell by 11 percent to $50.9 billion from an estimated $57.4 billion last year.

Consumers took advantage of early promotions to put a dent in their shopping lists before the weekend even started, which might have led to some of the decline in weekend shopping.

Another possible reason for the decline is that consumers expect the deals to continue throughout the holiday shopping season. Many industry experts feel this will be the most promotional holiday season in history, with plentiful percent-off and coupon promotions. Dec. 20, the Saturday before Christmas, is expected to be the biggest shopping day of the season.

Black Friday still drew the biggest crowds of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, however. According to the survey, 86.9 million shoppers were in stores and online on Friday. Though more stores opened on Thanksgiving Day this year, the number of shoppers  in stores and online on Thanksgiving Day, 43 million, was flat with last year as a percent of shoppers surveyed.

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On average, people who shopped over the weekend spent approximately 42 percent of their total average budget.

Most shoppers say they shopped online on Black Friday, with the next largest group shopping online on Saturday. More than a quarter of holiday weekend shoppers were shopping online on Thanksgiving Day.

Apparel was a favorite product category. According to the survey, more than half of those in stores and online over the weekend bought apparel items, one-third purchased toys, and another third bought electronics. One in five purchased home décor or home furnishing items, and more than 28 percent bought gift cards.

Half of holiday shoppers surveyed, or 67.8 million people, said they did or will shop at department stores over the weekend, compared to almost 35 percent at discount stores.

Millennials, viewing the Thanksgiving weekend as a social experience, were a large part of the weekend crowds, both in stores and online. The survey found that almost 75 percent of 18-34 year olds had shopped or were planning to shop over the weekend, far higher than the 35-54 age group, at 53.8%, and those 55 and over, at 39 percent. Adults 18-34 were also more likely to purchase clothing and accessories over the weekend, and to make more of their expenditures online.