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Weekend sales dip on discounts; e-commerce jumps

NEW YORK -- Heavy discounting took a toll on U.S. retail sales during the Thanksgiving weekend as shoppers spent almost 3-percent less than they did a year earlier, according to data released Sunday by an industry group.

That could be an indication of a more difficult season for many retailers. One bright spot this weekend, according to the data, was e-commerce as online sales soared.

The National Retail Federation estimated the average shopper spent US$407.02 over the weekend, or 3.9-percent less than during the same weekend last year, because of lower prices it said would persist through the rest of the season.

“Retailers will continue to aggressively promote their in-store and online offerings, looking to entice today's very budget-conscious and value-focused shopper,” said NRF Chief Executive Matthew Shay.

The NRF said 141 million people went shopping at least once during the holiday weekend, up from 139 million last year. But total spending was expected to reach US$57.4 billion for the four-day period — which includes Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year — down 2.8 percent from US$59.1 billion over the same weekend in 2012.

The big deals will also dent profit margins, analysts said.

“Sales will go up, but gross margins are going to be down. Doorbusters were what people were shopping for, more than the regular-priced stuff,” said Ron Friedman, retail practice leader at the consulting firm Marcum LLP.

The Thanksgiving weekend is an early gauge of consumer mood and intentions in a season that generates about 30 percent of sales and nearly 40 percent of profit for retailers.

But many have given modest forecasts for the quarter. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it expects no growth in its U.S. comparable sales, and Macy's Inc didn't raise its full-year sales forecast despite strong numbers last quarter.

The shorter holiday period this year — there are six fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas compared with 2012 — prompted retailers to begin offering bargains on Monday, earlier than usual, something Shay said likely pulled some sales forward to the first part of the week.

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Shoppers carry their bags as they take advantage of Black Friday deals at Somerset Collection shopping mall in Troy, Michigan on Friday, Nov. 29. More Americans took advantage of early holiday season sales than last year, but they spent less — and online sales fared better than brick-and-mortar stores, a survey showed Sunday. (AFP)

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