Fewer consumers shopped in stores and online over the Thanksgiving weekend, causing the biggest shopping weekend of the year to fall short of last year’s numbers, new data shows.
Nationwide, an estimated 134 million people shopped between Thanksgiving and Sunday, down 5.2 percent from the 141 million who shopped over the holiday weekend last year, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF).
The numbers don’t take into account Cyber Monday, a popular day for online shopping and deals.
Retailers count on big business over the Thanksgiving weekend each year, particularly Black Friday, which derives its name because it typically is the day when retailers turn a profit, or move “into the black” for the year.
But shoppers were not as eager to head to stores or log online this year. Just more than half, 55 percent, of holiday shoppers were estimated to have made purchases during the weekend, down from about 59 percent a year ago.
NRF, the nation’s largest retail trade group, attributed the dip to early holiday promotions and increased online shopping – both of which diminish the urgency of shopping over the holiday weekend – and put a positive spin on the decrease.
“A strengthening economy that changes consumers’ reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in a statement. “We are excited to be witnessing an evolutionary change in holiday shopping by both consumers and retailers, and expect this trend to continue in the years ahead.”
The retail group is forecasting that holiday sales, which it classifies as sales made in November and December, will increase 4.1 percent this year over last year to a total of $616.9 billion.
But estimated figures were down across the board over the weekend, compared with last year. The average shopper was on track to spend $380.95 over the holiday weekend, down more than 6 percent from $407.02 last year, the NRF found. And total spending was expected to reach $50.9 billion over this past weekend, a sizeable figure but down from last year’s $57.4 billion.
Figures released by the NRF are estimates as its survey was conducted Friday and Saturday. Ohio-based Prosper Insights & Analytics polled 4,631 consumers on behalf of the NRF.
Despite the drop from last year, Black Friday was still by far the biggest day for retailers so far this year. About 90 million shoppers were in stores and online Friday.
Despite some vocal critics who decried the opening of many big-box retailers and malls on Thanksgiving Day, the survey found one-third of shoppers – about 43 million – shopped on the actual holiday, about the same number as last year.
Additionally, half of holiday shoppers polled shopped on Saturday and about 26 percent planned to shop Sunday.
Of those who shopped Saturday, 75 percent said they did so specifically for Small Business Saturday. That effort, spearheaded by American Express, encourages consumers to shop at local, independently owned small businesses the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Those who shopped over the weekend bought clothes (55 percent), toys (33 percent) and electronics (34 percent). Also, 35 percent bought books, videos or video games and 20 percent purchased home décor or furnishings, 28 percent bought gift cards and 15 percent bought jewelry.
The age group that did the most shopping was comprised of Millenials, who the NRF survey found viewed it as a social experience. In all, 74 percent of 18 to 34 year olds shopped over the weekend. That age group turned out in much higher numbers than the 54 percent of 35 to 54 year olds who shopped and the 39 percent of those 55 and older who shopped, according to the NRF.
Perhaps as a result of so many Millenials shopping, nearly half of consumers used their smartphones to make purchase decisions over the weekend. Almost half, 45 percent, of shoppers used their phones to research items, lookup retailer information, make purchases, redeem coupons and use apps to help them shop.
With Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday shopping season ahead, retailers are optimistic they will see big business in the weeks ahead, according to NRF.
“As competition for customer dollars heats up, consumers will be the ultimate winners in the end, Prosper Insights & Analytics analyst Pam Goodfellow said in a statement. “Shoppers this year have made it clear that they no longer only value deep discounts on Thanksgiving and Black Friday; they want the entire package from beginning to end – free shipping, early promotions, convenient ways to use their mobile devices and, of course, hard-to-beat online deals.”