A record day for retail

The combination of earlier than ever opening hours, favorable weather and deal conscious consumers receptive to heightened promotional activity produced record sales over Thanksgiving weekend.

The National Retail Federation said an estimated 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites over Thanksgiving weekend, compared with 212 million last year, and spent an 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.

The early opening hours really did the trick this year as many shoppers found it easier to stay up until midnight when many retailers opened as opposed to catching a few hours of sleep and 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,” BIGresearch EVP Phil Rist said. “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.

The weekend trended the warmest in 10 years for New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cincinnati and Atlanta. Meanwhile, Indianapolis, Detroit and Cleveland each were the warmest in over 12 years, according to Planayltics. Throughout the United States, more than 250 warm temperature records were set over the weekend including major markets such as New York, Newark, N.J., Atlantic City, N.J., and Detroit.

The warm and dry weather contributed to the strong traffic but it also meant that demand for seasonal categories such as outerwear, sweaters, boots, gloves, hats and scarves were all down when compared with last year.