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Updated from 8:00 a.m.

The American consumer blew through a cool $7.2 billion at U.S. retail outlets on Friday, temporarily putting to rest concerns that shoppers wouldn't buy much until the mid-December markdowns kicked in.

The total outlay was 4.8% higher than a year ago, which was also a historically strong performance, according to retail data collector ShopperTrak. Leading the charge was

Wal-Mart

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, whose

record single-day sales of $1.52 billion Friday were up 6.3% from a year ago.

ShopperTrak derives its number from Commerce Department statistics measuring general merchandise, apparel, furniture, sporting goods, electronics, hobby, books and other related store sales, as well as a proprietary industry intelligence gauge on shopper movement and sales statistics.

"Given the difficult comparison with a strong start to the holiday season last year, the Black Friday performance this year was a very good start to the season," ShopperTrak consultant Michael Niemira said.

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"It was a very pleasant surprise that demand was as strong as it was on Black Friday," he said. "Not only are the incentives and discounts bringing people into the stores to shop and buy, retailers also report that full-priced merchandise did well."

According to the National Retail Federation's 2003 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, which is conducted by market intelligence firm BIGresearch, 71.8% of consumers were shopping on the Black Friday weekend. The most-wanted gifts were CDs, DVDs and video games, accounting for 39.3% of all purchases. Clothing came in at 35.6% of the total, the survey said.

In fact, DVD players are seen as the most popular electronic gift this season, the survey said.

The 2003 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey polled 5,668 consumers from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29. It is designed to gauge consumer behavior and shopping trends related to the winter holiday season and Black Friday weekend, the NRF said. This was the survey's third installment.

While 43.3% of consumers surveyed shopped at discount stores during the weekend, 29.4% went to department stores and another 24% shopped at specialty stores.

Consumers, the NRF said, are not as far along in their holiday shopping as they were at the same time last year. "This could mean that the best is yet to come in December," said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive of the NRF, which is a retail trade organization.

ShopperTrak noted that while the Friday after Thanksgiving is usually the second or third busiest sales day of the holiday season, it is no longer considered a good forecasting tool for the rest of the season. Factors such as weather, discounting patterns, inventory and general economic conditions come into play as the season progresses, it said.

The NRF expects a 5.7% increase in holiday sales this year over last year, which would bring sales to about $217.4 billion.

"With the economy in better shape and a little more money in consumers' pockets, we are hopeful the

Black Friday weekend momentum continues throughout the holiday season," said the NRF's Mullin.