- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 28, 2000

Robotic dogs and sleek scooters were flying off shelves during Thanksgiving weekend as more shoppers than last year poured into the nation's malls.

Traditional retailers and department stores enjoyed their share of the holiday-shopping pie.

"It was much better than last year," said Scott O'Toole, store director at Toys R Us in Fair Lakes Center. "There were more people, more sales, more of everything."

The three-day shopping spree that officially begins the holiday season brought about 77.5 million shoppers to the mall about 6.5 percent more than last year, according to research from the National Retail Federation and RCT Systems Inc., which provides retail traffic information.

Retailers rewarded early shoppers with big discounts and many promotional deals. Many retailers opened their doors at 6 a.m. to lure shoppers with early bird specials.

Friday's sales at stores open at least a year rose 4.6 percent from the same day last year, according to TeleCheck Services Inc., which analyzed checks written by consumers at 27,000 locations. That's right in line with TeleCheck's forecast of a 4 percent same-store sales gain for the entire 31-day shopping season.

Friday's same-store sales rose about 5.4 percent in the District of Columbia, 4.8 percent in Maryland and 3.5 percent in Virginia compared with the like day in 1999, according to TeleCheck.

"People are expecting things to get even better," said Sarah Scheuer, a spokeswoman for the District-based National Retail Federation.

A holiday retail forecast conducted by Deloitte & Touche and the Retail Federation expects a 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent increase in November and December sales for a holiday season total of $196 billion to $198 billion.

Typically, the first shopping weekend of the holiday season beginning the day after Thanksgiving gauges how retailers will do for the rest of the season.

But "Black Friday," which retailers have relied on to pull their ledgers out of the red for the year, has lost some significance in recent years. People have been waiting much later in the season to do their shopping.

Last year, for example, the busiest shopping day was Dec. 18, the Saturday before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Black Friday ranked No. 8.

Retailers still expect the weekend before Christmas to be big this year, especially because Christmas falls on a Monday.

But bricks-and-mortar shops aren't complaining about last weekend's numbers.

Traditional retailers such as Toys R Us, Best Buy, RadioShack and Wal-Mart were packed with shoppers searching for the best deals.

At the Fair Lakes Toys R Us, all four brands of robotic dogs in stock were in high demand. The store, which sold the mechanical pups for $29 to $59, matched any price advertised by competitors.

The store ran out of some of the dogs and was waiting on a new shipment yesterday.

"You never have enough of the hot items," said Mr. O'Toole, the store's director.

RadioShack's weekend sale of cellular phones and other digital merchandise exceeded company expectations. The electronics retailer expects those sales to significantly boost the chain's November numbers.

Cell phones, portable CD players and cordless phones were the biggest sellers at Circuit City Express in Springfield Mall over the weekend.

"Sales were definitely good," said Jonathan Ponikvar, a Circuit City sales associate.

Wal-Mart reported more than $1.1 billion in sales on Friday the biggest day in its history.

Internet retailers, meanwhile, expect a record $11.6 billion in sales this holiday season. On-line shoppers are already busy surfing retail Web sites.

America Online reported that about 6 million customers made an on-line purchase last week up 50 percent from Thanksgiving week in 1999. The Sterling, Va., Internet-service provider said shoppers are spending about 27 percent more than they did last year.

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