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December, 4, 2016

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More shoppers come out but each spends less

NEW YORK -- Thanksgiving weekend shoppers picked up hot toys, TVs and new Apple products, buying both online and in stores, but spent less per person because of rampant discounting that they've come to demand.

Once all the receipts are in, customers look to have spent an average of US$289.19 over the four-day weekend, down nearly 3.5 percent from a year ago, based on a survey by the National Retail Federation. The pressure on prices was especially strong on products like TVs.

More than 154 million customers said they had shopped or planned to this Thanksgiving weekend, up from 151 million a year ago, according to the survey conducted Friday and Saturday by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. And more were doing it online, as about 99.1 million went to the stores and 108.5 million shopped online.

Fixated on Deals and Used Technology

Carmen Cunnyngham of Kansas City, Kansas, was in Denver on Sunday and decided to stop at the mall to pick up a new pair of Ugg boots for her daughter. They were discounted at Nordstrom, which is one of her favorite places to shop. She said she got a bit of a late start this year because of the presidential election, so she's been looking online for deals and jumping when she sees them.

"I'm trying to make sure I get the wish lists in and look at those and shop and do what I can before Christmas gets here," she said.

The drop in spending underscores how even with an improving economy, many shoppers are still focused on habit developed during the Great Recession. They're fixated on deals and more readily using technology to find them whenever they want to buy. More than a third of customers surveyed by the NRF said that all of their purchases were on sale, up 11 percent from a year ago.

The Thanksgiving weekend kicks off the holiday shopping season but stores have increasingly started their sales earlier. Stores had been wary about being left with a lot of inventory they would have to discount to get off the shelves, and so started the season with less on hand. That will help preserve profit margins, but they've still planned aggressive promotions to grab shoppers.

"People are much more deliberate about the purchases they make," NRF CEO Matthew Shay said Sunday. "In a perfect world, everyone would sell at full price, but as consumers and as buyers all of us would like to get a deal on things we buy. The era of promotional sales is with us to stay."

Even though shoppers are spending less per person, more shoppers could still translate into more spending. MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which tracks spending on all kinds of payments, estimated that spending over the four-day weekend will be up 3.8 percent, with online sales up by double-digit percentages and in-store sales up in the single digits. But MasterCard Advisors' Sarah Quinlan also cited a slight decline in the average sale because of promotions.

Stores trying to snag customers first and compete with Amazon are shifting to a steady stream of online discounts and alerts instead of focusing on doorbuster sales on a few products. That meant that online shopping stole thunder away from sales at stores. And while areas like electronics and toys remained strong for the weekend, clothing, particularly basic sweaters, were still a tough sell.

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