Holiday Season May Be A Good One For U.S. Retailers

Cyber Monday saw a big retail push following a Black Friday that expanded into Thanksgiving Day. The big question now is whether all the early shopping will boost total holiday sales or just push them up earlier on the calendar.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, now, a bit of economic brightness from the private sector. If the initial numbers are any indication that this will be a pretty good holiday season for retailers. Shoppers were very busy over the Thanksgiving weekend. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: The crowds were heavy at a Walmart in Athens, Ohio, this weekend. Among the shoppers was Sandy Tope(ph), who was trying to get her buying done early.

SANDY TOPE: We were here earlier for the 8 o'clock sale. We were here at probably about 10:00 and went home, caught a few hours sleep, and then I was back here before 5:00, and then I'm also going to hit another store at 7:00.

ZARROLI: It may be early to say for sure how the holiday season will shape up for retailers, but Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Federation says the tea leaves are looking promising. Grannis says shoppers visited stores or went online to shop 247 million times this weekend, up from 226 million during the same period last year. On Black Friday alone, some 89 million people went shopping.

KATHY GRANNIS: Overall, the data shows an increase of the number of people who shopped multiple times this weekend. It looks like retailers' deals and promotions really struck a chord with holiday shoppers this year.

ZARROLI: Grannis doesn't expect sales to grow this year as much as they did last year when consumer spending rose by 5.6 percent. She says consumers are still cautious about the economy. The job market remains weak. But she's still looking for a pretty healthy increase of 4.1 percent. Chris Angell of the retail research firm ShopperTrak is optimistic as well. He says among other things, the calendar bodes well for retailers this year.

CHRIS ANGELL: So we have an extra sort of weekend more than we did last year after Black Friday. It's the longest possible number of days between Black Friday and Christmas.

ZARROLI: But Angell also points to a paradox in the shopping numbers. So far, his firm surveys foot traffic at retail stores and found that it was up more than 3 percent on Friday compared to the year before. But total sales were down, so people were apparently doing a lot more window-shopping. It may also have something to do with the number of discounts being offered and a lot of large retailers open for business as early as Thursday evening offering big savings to people willing to get up from the table early and head for the malls. Elena Seyer(ph) says she doesn't exactly like the idea of shopping on Thursday night when people should be with their families.

ELENA SEYER: I feel bad for the employees who happen to work on Thanksgiving, but with the economy, you're kind of forced to have to do it. You know, if you can find something $100 cheaper, you kind of have to do it.

ZARROLI: But Thursday night shopping may be here to stay. The National Retail Federation says people made 28 million shopping trips on Thanksgiving 2011. This year, that number rose to 35 million. Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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