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Retail Traffic Up With Spending Down in Holiday Start

New York City, Deep discounts and extended hours drew more than 147 million shoppers to U.S. stores over the four-day Thanksgiving holiday shopping period, but average consumer spending fell, according to the National Retail Federation’s 2007 Black Friday Weekend Survey. The group attributed the results to the economic uncertainty facing consumers and tough comparisons with last year.

The survey, which included data from Thursday to Saturday and projections for Sunday, showed customers spent an average of $347.44, down 3.5% from $360.15 last year.

But the decline was offset by a 4.8% increase in the number of shoppers, making the weekend’s total spending results “extremely similar” with last year, said federation spokeswoman Ellen Davis. The federation did not give a figure for total spending.

While fears about lower home values, a shaky stock market and higher costs for food and fuel could have played some role, the decline was more due to the focus this year on mid-priced items such as laptop computers and digital photo frames, vs. last year’s emphasis on expensive high-definition televisions, according to NRF.

Men once again proved to be the better Black Friday customer, according to the NRF survey. With a greater emphasis on door-buster specials in the consumer-electronics category, men outspent women $393.63 to $303.95.

Though discounters saw a dip in traffic last year, they rebounded nicely this year as 55.1% of shoppers visited discount stores, up from 49.6% in 2006. Consumers also shopped in traditional department stores (38.7%), specialty retailers (43.2%) and online (31.6%), the report said.

The most popular items purchased were clothing or clothing accessories (46.8%) as well as books, CDs, DVDs, videos or video games (41.7%). Other purchases this weekend included consumer electronics (35.7%), toys (28.2%), and gift cards (21.0%).

As of Sunday, Nov. 26, the average person has completed 36.4% of their holiday shopping, showing virtually no change from last year. Only one in 12 consumers (8.2%) has finished their holiday shopping, according to the survey.

SpendingPulse, the retail data service of MasterCard Inc. unit MasterCard Advisors, estimated total spending for Friday through Sunday would reach $42 billion to $43 billion. That would be a 4.5% to 5.5% increase over last year. SpendingPulse tracks sales activity in the MasterCard payments network and couples it with estimates of all other payment forms.

This year’s increase was helped by the ever-earlier start times, according to SpendingPulse.

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