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Thanksgiving weekend dealhunting crowds broke records but their spending didn’t

More people than ever flocked to stores and websites over the Thanksgiving and Black Friday holiday weekend this year, but consumers didn’t quite break the spending record set in recent years.

About 200.4 million people, or more than 60% of the US population, shopped over the five days from Thanksgiving to Black Friday and through Cyber Monday, trumping last year’s record of 196.7 million shoppers, according to the National Retail Federation, the retail industry’s largest trade group.

In terms of how people shopped, about 134.2 million avoided walking into a store and instead turned to the convenience of their devices to browse for sales, while 121.4 million consumers did the opposite over the five-day period.

The NRF said the total beat its own forecast for the annual buying bonanza of 182 million shoppers.

But while the number of people who ventured out of their homes to brave the Thanksgiving week crowds went up, the amount of money they spent in total on traditional seasonal gifts, decor, and food was down slightly.

The group said consumers spent $321.41 on average (unadjusted for inflation) on these types of items compared to $325.44 over the same time last year. A bulk of that amount, or about $227, was spent specifically on gifts. It’s also well below the average record of $361 spent in 2019 on holiday purchases.

And while most purchases were for items people probably expect as Christmas gifts – clothing and accessories followed by toys, gift cards, books, video games – one new category cracked the list of top-sought products.

“This year for the first time, personal care and beauty items were among the top five most popular gifts purchased over Thanksgiving weekend,” NRF CEO Matt Shay said in a call with reporters Tuesday to discuss the results.

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend typically marks the start of the year-end gift-buying rush. It’s a critical period for retailers because the November-December months combined can account for about 20% of stores’ sales for the full year.

The NRF’s own projection calls for a slowdown in holiday sales growth this year. It expects holiday sales from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 to increase 4% (not adjusted for inflation), slower than the 5.4% increase in 2022 as households re-think their budgets to account for the overhang of rising prices, a re-start of student loan repayments, and higher interest and mortgage rates.

Industry watchers noted that Black Friday discounts were mostly in the 25% to 30% range and likely “the promotion levels that retailers have planned for.” Shoppers may be enticed with even deeper sales further into the season.

According to the NRF, Black Friday also beat out Cyber Monday as the most popular day for online shopping.

But a separate report pegged Cyber Monday as the most popular day for online shoppers. Adobe Analytics said a record $9.8 billion was spent on online Black Friday sales this year, up 7.5% from 2022, not accounting for inflation. And for Cyber Monday, the numbers were even stronger — consumers spent $12.4 billion, a 9.6% increase from 2022.

However, a report from Mastercard’s SpendingPulse insights noted that in-store sales rose a more tepid 1% on the day after Thanksgiving.

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