Black Friday Weekend Sales Slide on Cautious Consumers

Consumers started shopping earlier than Thanksgiving this year, trade group says.

People make purchases at the Black Thursday sale at the Toys 'R' Us store in Times Square Nov. 22, 2012 in New York City.

Shoppers spent an estimated $57.4 billion from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, Dec. 1, down from $59.1 billion in 2012.

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The Thanksgiving-weekend shopping numbers are in, and a few things are clear: Sales were down this year, Black Friday is losing its dominance, and e-commerce is still gaining ground on brick-and-mortar shopping.

Shoppers spent an estimated $57.4 billion from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday, Dec. 1, down from $59.1 billion in 2012, according to the National Retail Federation, a retail industry trade group. That 2.9 percent decline comes alongside a nearly 4 percent cut in spending per shopper. The federation estimates each shopper this weekend spent an average of $407.02, down from more than $423 last year.

A few factors contributed to the decline in spending this year, the federation said in a call with reporters on Sunday: One is that consumers report they expect to have tight budgets this year, despite a recovering economy. However, the NRF notes it may also be that shoppers chose to start making purchases well before this year's late Thanksgiving.

"There was a lot of shopping that was done prior to this holiday weekend as retailers were out promoting opportunities because of the shortened holiday buying season," said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the NRF.

Aside from doing some pre-Thanksgiving shopping, consumers did a lot more shopping on Turkey Day this year than last year. Shopping traffic on Thanksgiving Day grew by 27 percent, with 44 million people shopping online or in stores that day, according to the federation. Black Friday remained on top but posted slower growth, jumping from 89 to 92 million shoppers. Thanksgiving Day shopping options grew this year, as major retailers including Kohl's, J.C. Penney and Macy's all made news this year when they announced they would open on Thanksgiving for the first time ever.

[READ: Who’s to Blame for This Year’s Early Black Friday?]

Still other Thanksgiving-weekend shopping data confirm this trend of shopping migrating from Black Friday to Thanksgiving Thursday. According to retail analytics firm Shoppertrak, Black Friday retail sales at physical stores were down by 13.2 percent. While the firm has not yet reported figures for Thanksgiving Day alone, it reports that retail sales at physical stores for Thursday and Friday together were up 2.3 percent from 2012.

The big shopping days aren't over, either. Cyber Monday could be almost as big as Thanksgiving weekend in terms of number of shoppers. While an estimated 141 million people shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, according to the NRF, survey results indicate 131 million plan to shop on Cyber Monday. E-commerce also jumped during the holiday weekend itself. Data from IBM show online sales on Black Friday alone were 9.8 percent higher than in 2012. As U.S. News recently reported, e-commerce sales during the holiday season are expected to be up 14 percent from last year.

[READ: 5 Best Mobile Apps for Holiday Shopping Online]

In addition to making purchases online, says Shoppertrak founder Bill Martin, consumers are using the Internet to research product prices and availability before heading out to shop, meaning stores may increasingly have to focus on customer service to make these uber-informed consumers happy.

"Once the customer has done all of that research and has chosen your store to come spend money on your product, you're going to have to have enough of the right people with the right attitudes to make sure that the experience meets the expectations," he says.

Though total holiday weekend spending appears to have declined, the NRF still expects total holiday shopping to be up by 3.9 percent from 2012. That may seem counterintuitive, but as U.S. News reported recently, Thanksgiving weekend sales have not in recent years tracked closely to total holiday spending.

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