Black Friday spending was up, especially when you include Black Saturday, Black Sunday and the brand new Black Thanksgiving in the whole mix.
Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $52.4 billion, up 16 percent from $45 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation.
For the first time some retailers began sales in the latter part of the day on Thanksgiving while others waited until the stroke of midnight Black Friday.
“It does generate a lot of excitement,” said Kimberly Ritter, associate economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
Investors seemed to be excited too as U.S. stocks posted sharp gains Monday after reports of strong Black Friday weekend sales.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 291 points, or 2.6 percent, the S&P 500 added 34 points, or 2.9 percent, and the Nasdaq composite rose 86 points, or 3.5 percent.
The advance broke a 4-day losing streak for the Dow and seven consecutive days of declines for the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.
According to Ritter, most pre-holiday shopping surveys revealed that consumers planned to spend less. However, post Black Friday figures show spending went up this year.
“If that translates into higher spending over the whole course of the shopping season, that remains to be seen,” said Ritter.
Economists hope to see a lot of procrastinators spend money as Christmas nears, or second round shoppers tempted to come back for more and better deals.
Ritter says last-minute shopping usually benefits consumers, but that might not be the case this year.
“I think retailers worked to keep their inventories a little bit leaner this year. So you won’t have that big rush to clear everything out quite like we saw last year,” Ritter said.
On the jobs front, Ritter says most of the big retailers reported staffing at similar levels to last holiday season, but employment has morphed.
“Some of the retail employment and seasonal hiring we have seen has gone over to online based sales. We have more people being hired at distribution centers, at call centers, warehouses and jobs like that,” said Ritter.
In terms of spending this holiday season, Ritter sees two different forces working against each other. On the one hand consumer confidence is down, households are still under a lot of stress, and debt and unemployment levels are high.
“But at the same time a large percentage of the population is still working and may be taking the holiday season as a time to step back, try not to think about financial difficulties as much and maybe spend a little bit more this year. Feel better about the holiday season and themselves and just kind of relax and take a step back for a little while,” Ritter said.