US: US shoppers spent heavily online on the crucial Black Friday shopping day, for the first time topping a billion dollars in online sales in a single day, analysts and retailers said. The four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend is the kickoff to the US holiday shopping season, and Black Friday has long been considered the critical day that turns retailers' books from red to black.
Consumer spending makes up more than two thirds of US economic activity. So the short but busiest consumer sales season has a huge importance to the US economy for the whole year. This year, online shoppers spent a grand total of $1.042 billion on Friday, surpassing last year's Black Friday haul by 26 percent, according to the consulting firm Comscore.
A total of 57.3 million Americans visited online retail sites on Black Friday, representing an increase of 18 percent versus a year ago, the firm said. It pointed out that Amazon.com ranked as the most visited online retail site on that day.
"Despite the frenzy of media coverage surrounding the importance of Black Friday in the brick-and-mortar world, we continue to see this shopping day become more and more prominent in the e-commerce channel particularly among those who prefer to avoid crowds at the stores," said Comscore chairman Gian Fulgoni.
Another study by IMB Benchmark Digital Analytics saw an increase of 21 percent in Internet sales, with a surge in orders of mobile devices and tablet computers, in particular.
But the new record might be short-lived.
Coming next is "Cyber Monday," the day Americans go back to work and online retailers launch heavy promotions to reel in more shoppers. "According to norms we've observed over the past three years," retail analyst ShopperTrak said, the Monday after Thanksgiving "should be the heaviest online shopping day of the season with sales approaching $1.5 billion or even higher."
Across the four-day weekend, US shoppers spent $59.1 billion dollars, a jump of 13 percent over the previous year, the National Retail Federation announced. "It's phenomenal," NRF director Mathew Shay told reporters at a press conference, saying the numbers bode well for the holiday season despite the still-struggling economy.
American consumers spent an average of $423 this weekend, compared to $398 last year, the group reported. However, the NRF did not revise its prediction for the US holiday shopping season as a whole, keeping it at a 4.1% increase year on year, arguing that consumers remain cautious about the economy.
The looming threat of the "fiscal cliff," which could send taxes soaring if Republicans and Democrats do not reach a compromise on reducing the deficit before the end of the year, also had the retailers worried.
And despite the good numbers overall, sales at brick-and-mortar locations were sluggish on "Black Friday:" in-store traffic increased by 3.5 percent on Friday with more than 307 million visitors, but total sales actually went down compared to the previous year by 1.8 percent, according to ShopperTrak.
Some of the biggest numbers went to the stores that opened early on the Thanksgiving holiday itself a growing trend, especially among large chain stores, that is turning the traditionally family-based holiday into a commercial event.
"Opening on Thanksgiving was a big win," the NRF's Shay said, noting that 35 million people went shopping, a 40 percent surge over the previous year. Comscore also noted a jump in online Thanksgiving day sales, up 32 percent over 2011, with $633 million in sales, though the IMB Benchmark Digital Analytics survey saw a more modest gain of 17.4 percent.