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Earlier Sales and Late Christmas Dent Thanksgiving Weekend Turnout

November 27, 2018, 9:00 PM UTC

If you got the impression that fewer people were at shopping centers and malls this past Thanksgiving weekend, you probably weren’t wrong.

According to a poll commissioned by the National Retail Federation to look at American consumers’ behavior over the biggest shopping weekend of the year, some 165 million people made purchases either online or in stores over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend that ended on Cyber Monday (Nov. 26). That’s down from the 174 million who did so on the corresponding weekend last year.

What’s more, people who did shop over the five days spent a bit less, $313.29, compared to $335.47 last year. But that does not mean the holiday season is off to slow start. One the contrary: despite those declines, the NRF said the weekend heralded a strong shopping period and expects sales to come in at the high end of its forecast range for total retail spending excluding cars and restaurants to rise between 4.3% and 4.8% over 2017, or a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion.

So what gives? The paradox stems from special events that pulled sales earlier into the week. And the calendar has something to do with it: November 22 is as early as Thanksgiving can take place, leaving shoppers six more days to buy their gifts between Turkey Day and Christmas, lessening the pressure many felt in getting their Christmas shopping started. Indeed, the survey by Prosper Insights & Analytics, found that on average, consumers have 56% of their holiday shopping left to do, with analysts largely feeling a strong season is still in the offing.

“(This) spending growth is built on a solid platform of job growth, income gains and sensible saving rates, so prospects for sustained growth into the future are improving each month,” wrote Craig Johnson, president Customer Growth Partners, in a research note. And shoppers did turn out online in greater numbers, presaging continued strong growth through the holidays: U.S. shoppers spent a record $7.9 billion digitally on Cyber Monday, up 19% over 2017’s totals, making it the largest e-commerce day of all time in the U.S., according to Adobe Analytics.

And the store chains that have invested heavily to integrate the digital with the physical, companies like Walmart, Target, Macy’s and Kohl’s, stand to be the biggest winners: some 89 million people shopped both online and in stores, up some 40% over last year, and spent $93 per person more than someone who shopped either only online or only stores.