The average U.S. shopper spent $313 over the period, down from last year’s $335, according to the National Retail Federation.

(Bloomberg)—Total holiday shopping this year might be one for the record books, but you wouldn’t know it looking at this past weekend’s numbers.

More than 165 million Americans shopped either in stores or online during the five-day period from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday—more than expected, but well below the 174 million shoppers during the same period last year, according to the National Retail Federation. The average U.S. shopper spent $313 over the period, down from last year’s $335.

The lower spending for Thanksgiving and the days immediately following isn’t a sign of poor retail demand—instead, it highlights how more shoppers are starting their spending early as retailers pull promotions forward. Walmart Inc. (No. 3 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000), Best Buy Co. (No. 8) and Target Corp. (No. 17) are among the big retailers that unveiled holiday deals in early November to grab bargain-seeking early shoppers.

“Sales start earlier right after October, Halloween, and they continue right up to Christmas Day,” Bill Thorne, NRF’s senior vice president of communications and public affairs, said on a conference call announcing the weekend’s results. “I think at the end of the day what we’re seeing is that Black Friday remains a traditional, if not emotional, start to the holiday season.”


Digging deeper

This year, older millennials and Generation X shoppers forked over about $100 more each than other shoppers, the NRF and survey partner Prosper Insights & Analytics said in the report. Retailers’ recent investments in e-commerce paid off as well, with so-called “multi-channel” shoppers that make purchases both online and in-store outspending single-channel shoppers by $93.

The NRF data only measures gifts and holiday-related purchases during the five-day stretch. It doesn’t track broader retail purchases made during that time, such as a consumer buying a new fridge or taking advantage of the deals to stock up on goods for the family.

Rest of the season

Prognosticators went into Thanksgiving expecting this holiday shopping season to be one of the best since the recession, possibly rivaling the boom days of the mid 2000s. Americans are feeling pretty confident and ready to shop as they head into 2019. More are opting to use e-commerce, and companies seem to have found success by adding options such as in-store pickups for online orders and expedited shipping deals.


Giving customers these services has a cost however, and the higher sales will likely be accompanied by a decrease in profitability as retailers contend with higher transportation and labor costs. Analysts have also warned that sales growth is starting to slow as the U.S. economy shows signs of cooling off amid a deepening trade war and higher interest rates.

Nonetheless, retailers have good reason to celebrate, at least for now. After all, the shopping season is going strong and it isn’t over: Consumers on average have more than half of their holiday shopping left to do.