Macy's shoppers line up for the Black Friday opening in New York City.
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — A record 247 million Americans shopped on foot and online during the four-day holiday weekend, up 9% from the same period last year, when 226 million made holiday purchases, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.
A total of 89 million Americans shopped online and in brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday, up from 86 million in 2011, according to the survey conducted by BIGinsight for the NRF.
More than 35 million Americans visited retail stores and websites Thursday, up from 29 million last year, the survey found, with the average holiday shopper spending $423 this weekend versus $398 last year, a rise of 6%.
“Whole families are going out Thanksgiving night,” Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the trade group, told a media briefing Sunday afternoon, calling it a continuation of a trend seen in recent years.
Big box stores including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT+1.90% and Target Corp.TGT+1.19% were among those open on Thanksgiving night, attracting “some of the spending that’s usually meant for Friday,” according to ShopperTrack, which tracks retail foot traffic
Black Friday weekend includes Thursday, Friday, Saturday and projected spending for Sunday, with the estimates including individuals shopping on multiple days, so one consumer would be counted four times if they shopped on each day of Black Friday weekend, the NRF said.
The NRF estimates 139 million individuals, or unique shoppers, bought or browsed during the weekend, below the 147 million projected but up from 131 million unique shoppers last year.
Nearly a third of shoppers, or 32.6%, purchased gift cards during the weekend, up almost 10 percentage points from the 23.1% who bought gift cards during the same period in 2011.
Beyond being at the top of many holiday wish lists, the increased popularity of gift cards also is partly due to merchant incentives such as discounted bundle gift card packs. and the perception of the cards as being “still a practical gift in an uncertain economy,” said Pam Goodfellow, consumer insights director at BIGinsight,
Early indications are giving retailers such as Macy's higher hopes for the 2012 holiday season. MarketWatch’s Andria Cheng reports.
Just how well U.S. retailers ultimately fare this holiday season could come down to whether politicians reach a deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, or the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes slated to begin in January.
“Unlike things that happen in China or Europe that are outside our control, this is certainly something that could have a very tangible effect on how the rest of our season might go,” Shay said.
“If the administration and Congress can come to some sort of deal in the next couple of weeks, I think that would send a very positive signal to retailers and consumers,” he added.
The NRF expects nearly 123 million consumers to shop online on what is now known as “Cyber Monday.”
Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.