Earlier emphasis yields Black Friday sales

Target was among those retailers whose decision to open at midnight on Black Friday paid off handsomely this past weekend as record numbers of shoppers visited stores and set new sales records.

The magnitude of Target’s success won’t be known until the retailer reports monthly sales next week, but things are looking for so far based on overall estimates from the National Retail Federation and the assumption that Target received its share of shoppers’ dollars. According to NRF, an estimated 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Thanksgiving weekend, compared with 212 million last year and they spent and average of $398 per person, compared with $365 last year. Those findings are based on an NRF survey of 3,826 shoppers conducted over the weekend by BIGresearch. People shopped early and they shopped online, according to the survey, reflecting the trend of earlier than ever opening hours and an increased emphasis on e-commerce. The survey found that 28.7 million people shopped online and at stores on Thanksgiving Day, compared with 22.2 million last year. And more people than ever shopped online and in stores on Black Friday itself with a total of 86.3 million shoppers hitting stores.

With many retailers moving their opening time to midnight, many shoppers found it easier to stay up rather than go to bed for a few hours before going to stores that opened at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. as tended to be the case in prior years. This year, nearly one-fourth of shoppers were at stores by midnight on Black Friday, compared with 9.5% last year and only 3.3% in 2009, according to NRF.

“The appetite for these early openings is only getting stronger among holiday shoppers, and retailers did a great job providing Americans just what they wanted this weekend — the ability to shop on Black Friday without having to get out of bed before dawn,” said BIGresearch EVP Phil Rist. “Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, and shopping early and often seem to be their new mantra as they seek the best value for all their holiday purchases.”

As for what shoppers bought, NRF said more than half bought clothing and accessories and roughly 40% bought consumer electronics and computer related accessories. Another 33% said they bought toys followed by home décor and jewelry at roughly 21%.

“Consumers are clearly demonstrating their desire to spend this holiday season, but are far from throwing caution to the wind when it comes to how much they will spend on gifts,” Rist said. “Retailers will have to stick to an aggressive holiday promotion schedule to keep consumers interested.”

The early opening hours this year made it more convenient for shoppers and retailers no doubt offered some fantastic deals, but favorable weather conditions nationwide also played an important role. Planalytics, a firm that analyzes and quantifies the impact of weather based on consumer purchasing patterns, noted that roughly 95% of the population experienced temperatures that were approximately 10 degrees warmer than last year.