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Thanksgiving weekend shoppers down; retailers still expect strong holiday finish

Multichannel shopping drove much of what the National Retail Federation called the "emotional" kickoff to the holiday shopping season, though the total number of shoppers was down slightly from Thanksgiving weekend of 2017.

The NRF said in its annual Thanksgiving weekend consumer report that multichannel shopping, or shopping done across more than one platform, was up nearly 40% year over year between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, with 66% of smartphone users using their phones to shop.

Although the NRF estimated that 165 million people shopped over the five-day holiday period, topping the 164 million shoppers the group had projected ahead of the holiday weekend, the number still marked a 9 million decrease from an estimated 174 million shoppers over the same period in 2017. The trade group based its results on a survey of 3,058 consumers conducted Nov. 24-25.

Despite the downward trend, the trade group is optimistic about December shopping due in part to extra days before Christmas this year, as well as the fact that 44% of shoppers ages 18-24 bought gifts primarily for themselves and not for others.

"This was a very strong holiday weekend and a very positive indicator of where we're headed for the next four weeks," Bill Thorne, senior vice president of communications and public affairs for the NRF, said on a call with reporters. "There is a lot more spending to come."

Roughly 23% of consumers have yet to begin their shopping, the survey found, which the NRF attributed to strong underlying consumer fundamentals like stronger wages and greater take-home pay.

"Almost across the board people just haven't been starting their shopping as early this year," said NRF Vice President of Research Development and Industry Analysis Mark Mathews.

The average shopper spent roughly $313 on gifts and other holiday items over that span, though shoppers between the ages of 35-44 were the biggest spenders at roughly $413. Average per-shopper spending was down roughly $20 year over year.

Apparel, purchased by 57% of those surveyed, was the most popular item over the weekend, followed by toys at 34% and books and video games at 29%.

According to the NRF, the most popular day for in-store shopping was Black Friday, with more than 67 million shoppers, followed by the 47.4 million shoppers who visited brick-and-mortar stores on Small Business Saturday.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, which have suffered from well-chronicled bankruptcies and store closures, benefited strongly from consumers combining mobile research, Mathews said, even though mobile shopping would logically be a threat to legacy retailers.

"I wouldn't say that mobile is a threat to anybody," Mathews said. "It's actually advantageous. The situation where you get into trouble is is you don't get your inventory right. If the consumer goes into the stores and they don't see what they're looking for then the mobile phone comes out. There's an issue there."

Mastercard SpendingPulse, an analytics solution for retailers, meanwhile, projects that overall retail sales could hit $23 billion on Black Friday, which would mark a 9% increase over the same day in 2017. Adobe Digital Insights said that consumers spent $6.22 billion on Black Friday, which would mark an all-time record for the day.