Retail Sales Results Mixed

More shoppers hit stores for Black Friday but spend less while there

Early results are in on the much-anticipated biggest shopping day of the year and although people didn't buy as much as retailers may have wished, there were encouraging signs for the economy as a whole. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation over the weekend, 195 million shoppers hit the malls and other retail outlets over the Black Friday weekend, an increase of 23 million over last year's shoppers.

The increased number of bargain hunters did not translate into bigger sales, however, although the average shopper did spend $343.31 and the overall total was estimated at $41.2 billion. Those figures represent a significant drop from the $372.57 average and $64 billion total seen over the same weekend in 2008.

"Shoppers proved this weekend that they were willing to open their wallets for a bargain, heading out to take advantage of great deals on less expensive items like toys, small appliances and winter clothes," said Tracy Mullin, NRF president and CEO, in a statement announcing the survey results. "While retailers are encouraged by the number of Americans who shopped over Black Friday weekend, they know they have their work cut out for them to keep people coming back through Christmas. Shoppers can continue to expect retailers to focus on low prices and bargains through the end of December."

More insight into the state of the economy as measured by consumer spending came this week and last in the form of new car sales, to be reported on December 1, and new and existing home sales, that were reported last week. estimates that November new vehicle sales are expected to be about 710,000 units, a 4.5% decrease from November 2008 and down 15% from October '09 sales. The positive spin on this figure is that November 2009 has 23 selling days, two less than in November 2008. When adjusted for this difference, sales are likely to have increased 3.8% from November 2008.

On housing, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development jointly estimated last week that sales of new one-family houses in October 2009 were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 430,000. This is 6.2% above the revised September rate of 405,000 and is 5.1% above the October 2008 estimate of 409,000. The median sale price of new houses sold in October 2009 was $212,200 and the average sale price was $261,100.

There was good news on existing-home sales, too. The National Association of Realtors reported a 10.1% surge to 6.10 million units in October of existing-home sales, which is 23.5% above the 4.94 million-unit level in October 2008. Sales activity is at the highest pace since February , NAR reported.

More on Retail

According to the Retail Federation survey of the Black Friday weekend's sales, nearly one-third (32.2%) of shoppers purchased toys, an increase of 12.9% from last year. Additionally, more people purchased sporting goods (12.6% vs. 11.4% last year), personal care or beauty items (22.4% vs. 19.0%), and gift cards (21.2% vs. 18.7%). The most popular purchases were of clothing and books, which remained nearly unchanged over last year.

In order to nab the best holiday items, more shoppers headed out for bargains while it was still dark outside. According to the survey, nearly one-third of shoppers (31.2%) were at the stores by 5 a.m., compared with 23.3% who were at stores by that time last year.

The NRF survey also found that more than a quarter of shoppers (28.5%) chose to take part in the shopping extravaganza but avoid the crowds and long checkout lines by shopping online. Millions more are expected to join them November 30 as people return to work after the holiday weekend and shop online from their office computers.

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