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US store sales down slightly for Thanksgiving and Black Friday

[CHICAGO] Sales at US brick-and-mortar stores on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were down slightly from last year, but the performance was still seen as strong in a holiday shopping season where discounts spread well beyond the weekend and many shoppers moved to the web.

Online sales were up by double digits, according to data released on Saturday.

Data from analytics firm RetailNext showed overall sales for both days fell 1.5 per cent on flat customer traffic, while average spending per shopper dropped 1.4 per cent.

Preliminary data from ShopperTrak showed sales at stores totaled about US$12.1 billion on Thursday and Friday. The company said it is an "estimated decrease from last year" but did not give the percentage decline due to an internal change in the way it calculates data. Last year, it reported sales of US$12.29 billion for the same period.

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ShopperTrak will release its final sales numbers on Tuesday. It stuck by its forecast of a 2.4 per cent increase for November and December sales.

The data highlights the waning importance of Black Friday, which until a few years ago kicked off the holiday shopping season, as more retailers start discounting earlier in the month and open their doors on Thanksgiving Day.

Both firms said that despite the fall in sales over the two days, the performance must be interpreted as a good one for retail stores because sales held up amid rising competition from online shopping and were better than expected due to pent-up consumer demand and lower gas prices.

Last year Black friday and Thanksgiving sales were disappointing, forcing retailers to double down on discounts which led to a last-minute shopping frenzy. "It's still a good performance for the weekend, given the growth that is being witnessed online as well," ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said.

ShopperTrak said Thanksgiving and Black Friday generated US$1.8 billion and US$10.4 billion in sales respectively. Martin said early promotions in November were a bigger factor hurting Black Friday than store openings on Thanksgiving evening.

Customer traffic remained flat on Thanksgiving Day from a year earlier while traffic fell 1.8 per cent on Black Friday, RetailNext said. Their estimate last year showed overall traffic for both days fell 14 per cent. "The numbers are down but it's still a better sales trend during the two days than we have seen for physical retail through the year and especially after a very difficult summer and October," Shelley Kohan, vice president of retail consulting at RetailNext, said.

Electronics and toys, which were better promotions did well, both firms said. Apparel sales struggled despite better promotions, Kohan said.

Separate data underscored the ongoing shift of shopping to online retailers.

Online Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales tracked by Adobe Digital Index were US$4.47 billion, up 18 per cent from a year earlier and higher than its expectation of US$4.35 billion. Adobe tracked 80 per cent of all online transactions from the top 100 US retailers.

Brick-and-mortar retailers who have online operations offered better web deals during Thanksgiving and Black Friday and saw higher sales than online only retailers, said Tamara Gaffney, principal research analyst at Adobe Digital Index.

She said discounting levels online averaged 26 and 24 per cent on both days respectively, and remained similar to last year's levels.