NEW YORK -- Thanksgiving shopping may have taken a hit in Black Friday sales, but the overall start to the holiday season was solid, according to the latest data released late Tuesday.Chicago-based-ShopperTrak, which analyzes foot traffic, said that customer visits were up 8.2 percent for the four-day weekend, starting with Thanksgiving, while total sales rose 2.7 percent to $22 billion, compared with the same period a year ago. Last year sales were up 1.7 percent.ShopperTrak said that sales generated on Thanksgiving Day totaled $800 million, spurred by a slew of retailers opening earlier on Thanksgiving evening. ShopperTrak's co-founder Bill Martin expected sales of $500 million to $700 million on the holiday. The firm said Saturday that Black Friday sales unexpectedly dipped 1.8 percent to $11.2 billion. That's the first decline for that day since 2008. However, customer counts rose 3.5 percent on the day after Thanksgiving, indicating shoppers were doing more browsing than buying.Thursday and Friday accounted for 327 million shopping visits out of the 594 million visits for the four-day weekend.
"This was a pretty good start," Martin said. But he added, "We are looking at Black Friday as a 30-hour day."
This year retailers had their earliest start ever to the holiday shopping season, as major stores including Target Corp. and Sears opened on Thanksgiving evening. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, started its sales at 8 p.m. Thursday, two hours earlier than a year ago. Martin says the good news was that shopping didn't fall off dramatically on Saturday and Sunday but remained steady. Sales rose 5 percent on both days compared with the year-ago period.ShopperTrak counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the U.S.The report follows survey results from the National Retail Federation released Sunday. The Washington-based retail trade group said that a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites over the four-day weekend starting on Thanksgiving, up 9.2 percent from last year, according to a survey of 4,000 shoppers conducted by research firm BIGinsight for the group.Americans spent more too. The average holiday shopper spent $423 over the entire weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend totaled $59.1 billion, up 12.8 percent from 2011. The group did not have day-by-day spending details. According to comScore, which tracks online spending, online sales rose 26 percent to $1.04 billion on Black Friday compared with a year ago. On Thanksgiving, online sales rose 32 percent from last year to $633 million."This is the year that everything changed," said Mike Moriarty, a partner at business consultant A.T. Kearney. "You have to be everywhere all the time." And he said consumers are driving the change.Analysts will study November sales results, to be released Thursday by major retailers such as Target and Macy's, to gain more insight into the start of the holiday shopping season.