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Black Friday Sales Up 7%

By Dee-Ann Durbin

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The holiday shopping season got off to a strong start on Black Friday, with retail sales up 7% over last year, according to the most recent survey. Now stores just have to keep buyers coming back without the promise of door-buster savings.

Buyers spent $11.4 billion at retail stores and malls, up nearly $1 billion from last year, according to a Saturday report from ShopperTrak. It was the largest amount ever spent on the day that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and the biggest year-over-year increase since 2007. Chicago-based ShopperTrak gathers data from 25,000 outlets across the U.S., including individual stores and shopping centers.

The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. broke its Black Friday record for shoppers, thanks to a decision to open at midnight for the first time. Around 210,000 visitors came to the mall on Friday, up from 200,000 last year, according to mall spokeswoman Bridget Jewell.

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Online shopping was strong as well, with a 24.3% increase in online spending on Black Friday, according to IBM, which tracks sales at 500 online retailers.

Bill Martin, who founded ShopperTrak, said he was surprised by the strong showing. He had expected the weak economy to dent consumer confidence and keep more shoppers out of the stores, or at least from spending much. Instead, he said, they responded to a blanket of promotions, from 60%- and 70%-off deals to door-buster savings on electronics.

"I'm pleased to see it. You can't have a great season without having a good Black Friday," Martin told The Associated Press in an interview.

Sales were also up 4% each in the two weeks leading up to Black Friday, as retailers started their promotions earlier than usual or extended their hours.

Still, he suspects things will quiet down this weekend, as promotions end and the buying frenzy subsides. ShopperTrak is expecting holiday sales to be up 3.3% this season. Retailers generally rely on sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make up 20% of their annual take.

There weren't many shoppers at Pioneer Place Mall in Portland, Ore., on Saturday.

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