Top takeaways from retailers’ “Super Bowl” weekend

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2013Holiday_Blog_NRFSimilar to the dedication and planning by families to make that ideal Thanksgiving meal, retailers spend months preparing for what is essentially a five-day shopping event – the four days of Thanksgiving weekend plus Cyber Monday. And this year, retailers made sure to beef up the trimmings.

As the Super Bowl for the retail industry, all bets were off this weekend when many retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day. NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay on Black Friday told CNBC that when all is said and done, “the consumer is the real winner.” Some retailers touted free $100 gift cards with the purchase of an iPad Air while others gave in-store shoppers a chance to win a Nexus 7 tablet or one of 10 weekend getaways. Discounts and special deals like these were a powerful combination for retailers this past weekend.

In addition to what Shay and Prosper’s Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow said during NRF’s annual media briefing, here are a few of our top takeaways from the weekend:

More people were shopping, but were spending less. Discounts and low prices, combined with the fact that 53 percent of Americans started their shopping in early November, were contributing factors to shopping over the holiday weekend. Spending dropped 3 percent to $57 billion, at an average $407. But with the number of shoppers up 1 percent and Thanksgiving Day in-store traffic growing 27 percent over last year, retailers are still calling the weekend a win.

Why the uncertainty? NRF’s forecast that holiday sales will increase 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion holds strong. But Americans still aren’t sure about the staying power of the economic recovery. Family income hasn’t grown in quite some time, and next year’s added health care costs mean consumers are keeping a close eye on holiday budgets.

Millennial power. NRF’s survey of consumers found young adults 18-34 spent an average $460 over the weekend, the highest of any age group. As in years past, they showed up eager to take advantage of retailers’ Thanksgiving deals: 49 percent were at stores by midnight on Thanksgiving, with eight in 10 shopping on Thanksgiving Day and 58 percent on Black Friday. And 31 percent shopped online on Cyber Monday using mobile devices. Retailers are smart to target and engage these shoppers.

Thanksgiving weekend goes digital. Consumers want to shop when they want, where they want and how they want, regardless of the channel, and retailers are responding. Walmart saw 400 million page views on its web site on Thanksgiving Day, including customers who used smartphones, tablets and computers. And NRF found similar excitement among weekend shoppers: nearly 44 percent of what consumers spent between Thursday and Sunday was spent online, up from 42 percent last year. The average amount spent online also increased, up 3 percent at $178 over the weekend.

Cyber Monday continues to grow. Retailers were touting “cyber” deals as early as November 20, even leaking information about their own upcoming deals, and Cyber Monday was bigger than ever. More than 131 million consumers shopped online on Cyber Monday, up from 129 million last year, according to numbers from NRF and our division. Sites like worked overtime to attract holiday shoppers, and retailers ramped up efforts to perfect their mobile sites and apps to make sure they had the capacity to handle expected traffic. In just one example, eBags founder Peter Cobb told me his company’s sales were up 21 percent over last year by 3 p.m. on the big day.

The most telling Cyber Monday consumer statistic might be in the numbers for mobile. More than 25 million Cyber Monday shoppers – nearly one in five – shopped using their smartphones or tablets, up 22 percent over last year. As NRF Senior Vice President and Executive Director Vicki Cantrell told Bloomberg, it’s this influx of mobile that has the retail industry’s attention during the holidays and year-round.

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