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Thanksgiving Steals Sales From Black Friday

By Linda A. Johnson

Thanksgiving shopping took a noticeable bite out of Black Friday's start to the holiday season, as the latest survey found retail sales in stores fell slightly from last year.

Saturday's report from retail technology company ShopperTrak finds consumers spent $11.2 billion at stores across the U.S. That is down 1.8% from last year's total.

This year's Friday results appear to have been tempered by hundreds of thousands of shoppers hitting sales Thursday evening while still full of Thanksgiving dinner. Retailers including Sears (SHLD), Target (TGT) and Wal-Mart (WMT) got their deals rolling as early as 8 p.m. on Turkey Day.

Online shopping also may have cut into the take at brick-and-mortar stores: IBM said online sales rose 17.4% on Thanksgiving and 20.7% on Black Friday, compared with 2011.

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Yet ShopperTrak said retail foot traffic increased 3.5%, to more than 307.67 million store visits, indicating at least some shoppers were browsing but not spending freely.

"Black Friday continues to be an important day in retail," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin. "This year, though, more retailers than last year began their doorbuster deals on Thursday, Thanksgiving itself. So while foot traffic did increase on Friday, those Thursday deals attracted some of the spending that's usually meant for Friday."

The company estimated that shopper foot traffic rose the most in the Midwest, up 12.9% compared with last year. Traffic rose the least, 7.6%, in the Northeast, parts of which are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

ShopperTrak, which counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 25,000 retail outlets across the U.S., had forecast Black Friday sales would grow 3.8% this year, to $11.4 billion.

While consumer confidence has been improving, many people are still worried about the slow economic recovery, high unemployment and whether a gridlocked Congress can avert tax increases and government spending cuts -- the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- set to occur automatically in January.

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