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Holiday shopping got strong start, data show

By Ashley M. Heher
Associated Press / November 30, 2008
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CHICAGO - The holiday shopping season got off to a surprisingly solid start, according to data released yesterday by a research firm. But the sales boost during the post-Thanksgiving shopathon came at the expense of profits; the nation's retailers had to slash prices to attract the crowds in a season that is expected to be the weakest in decades.

Sales during the day after Thanksgiving rose 3 percent to $10.6 billion, according to preliminary figures released yesterday by ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago-based research firm that tracks sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets. Last year, shoppers spent about $10.3 billion on the day after Thanksgiving, dubbed Black Friday because it was historically the sales-packed day when retailers would become profitable for the year.

But this year, many observers were expecting consumers to spend more time browsing than buying, amid contractions in consumer spending and growing fears about economic uncertainty and trouble in the global financial markets.

"Under these circumstances, it's truly amazing when you think about all the news that led into the holiday season, it certainly appears that consumers are willing to spend more than most expected," said Bill Martin, ShopperTrak co-founder.

While it isn't a predictor of overall holiday season sales, Black Friday is an important barometer of people's willingness to spend during the holidays. Last year, it was the biggest sales generator of the season, while the Thanksgiving shopping weekend of Friday through Sunday accounted for about 10 percent of overall holiday sales.

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