Updated from 7:30 a.m. EST with analyst comments
Whoever said most millennials in the U.S. are living paycheck to paycheck -- burdened by gobs of college debt and expensive Obamacare premiums -- may do a double take when they see that the group has come out in force to spend so far this holiday season.
Eight in 10 millennials (ages 18-34) shopped over the weekend as they took advantage of mouth-watering deals offered by retailers on TVs, tablets and winter apparel, according to the National Retail Federation. Of the group, older millennials, aged 25 to 34, shopped the most.
"Millennials are keeping retailers on their toes when it comes to Thanksgiving weekend shopping not just for their friends and family, but also themselves," Prosper's principal analyst Pam Goodfellow said. "However, millennials are not the only ones taking advantage of great promotions. Today's consumers, across ages, are savvy about when and where they shop."
But millennials seemed to steal the show in the end.
"Based on our field research, we believe the teen and millennial shoppers were out in droves -- Black Friday for many millennials isn't just about getting good deals, it is a nostalgic tradition," said BMO Capital Markets analyst John Morris in a note on Monday. "In keeping with the nostalgia trend, we believe that retailers that capture the nostalgic theme in their brands should do well," added Morris. Specifically, the analyst called out Gap's (GPS - Get Report) Old Navy, Express (EXPR - Get Report) and Abercrombie & Fitch's (ANF - Get Report) Hollister division as Black Friday winners.
In large part, the early holiday spending binge by a broad group of millennials is likely being fueled by an improved U.S. labor market.
The unemployment rate for those 25 and over with some college or an associate degree stood at 3.8% in October, down from 4.3% a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As for those over25 with a bachelor's degree or higher, the unemployment rate has held steady at about 2.6%. Unemployment among teenagers (16 to 19 years old) stood at 15.6% in October, down sharply from 16.1% last December.
Millennials ultimately did their part in making the start to the holiday season festive for many retailers.
Online sales for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday reached $5.27 billion, up a strong 17.7% from last year, according to Adobe. Black Friday set a record by ringing up $3.34 billion in sales, a year-over-year increase of 21.3%.
A large portion of the online shopping was done on mobile devices. Black Friday became the first day in retail history to notch more than $1 billion in mobile sales at $1.2 billion, up 33% from a year ago.
The results are based on aggregated and anonymous data from 22.6 billion visits to retail Web sites.
More than 154 million consumers shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, up from 151 million last year, according to a survey from the NRF. "It was a strong weekend for retailers, but an even better weekend for consumers, who took advantage of some really incredible deals," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay, who added that traffic to physical stores was "strong."
The survey, which asked 4,330 consumers about Thanksgiving weekend shopping plans, was conducted Nov. 25 and 26.
Additionally, the NRF reiterated its forecast for sales in November and December, excluding autos, gas and restaurant sales, to increase a solid 3.6% to $655.8 billion. If achieved, that would be significantly higher than the 10-year average gain of 2.5% and slightly above the seven-year average of 3.4% since macroeconomic recovery began in 2009.
"I continue to be very optimistic on our position for the holidays," Target (TGT - Get Report) Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell told TheStreet on a conference call with reporters Thursday evening. Most encouraging, said Cornell, was that people were shopping multiple departments after scooping up the typical Black Friday doorbuster deals. Cornell's sentiment was echoed by Macy's (M - Get Report) long-time CEO Terry Lundgren.
"I got to the opening at Herald Square in New York City at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving and it looked as strong as I have ever seen it at anytime," Lundgren said to TheStreet in a phone interview on Friday.
Millennials probably made up a large part of the crowd at Macy's.