Merchants raked in an estimated $59.1 billion in sales from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday during Black Friday sales, up from $52.4 billion a year earlier, according to the National Retail Federation. Millions flocked to stores and browsed online, and spending per shopper jumped 6 percent to $423.
"Everyone is feeling very bullish," said Matthew Shay, chief executive of the National Retail Federation. "We are really seeing a five-day weekend that started on Thursday and ends on Monday. The entire week is really getting extended with special promotions that roll out in waves."
Shoppers were drawn in by sales offers earlier than ever before, some as early as 8 PM Thanksgiving day. 30 percent of consumers who went out shopping over the long weekend were in stores by midnight Thanksgiving, of which 40 percent were between the ages 18 and 34.
The Thursday deals likely sapped some enthusiasm for Friday sales, as it was estimated that Black Friday sales were down 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion. "There was definitely more hype this year for Black Friday, and the shoppers came out in droves," said James Rushing, a partner in the retail practice at consulting firm A.T. Kearney.
A positive sign for sellers in their confidence in the economy is that sales prices for 75 percent or more off were far rarer. "Retailers are feeling more confident about consumer sentiment," said Kearney. "They were more focused on making a profit" rather than just making the sale, which "has potential to lead to a stronger fourth quarter."
Despite the good returns, there's still concern over the "fiscal cliff," where tax hikes and spending cuts go into effect at the first of the year. "The economic concern is still out there as are the political concerns," Shay said. "For that reason people are more prepared this holiday season to spend what they got and look for value, because of what might happen next year."
"It was quite apparent this year the self-gifting process during Black Friday was on the rise," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, estimating at least a quarter of shoppers treated themselves to a present over the weekend.