Holiday sales encouraging, but are shoppers done?

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Cyber Monday got its name from the National Retail Federation when computer shopping was starting to become popular. People returning to work after the holiday weekend would shop online on office computers. As more homes got high-speed Internet service, Cyber Monday became less of a factor.

This year, shoppers’ approach to the holidays has shifted, shaped by retailers. Black Friday is still expected to be the busiest day of the year, but spending was pulled forward as stores from Best Buy to Sears promoted discounts earlier in the month. They often pitched them as “Black Friday doorbusters” weeks before the real thing. More stores opened on Thanksgiving this year, too.

“You are going to have to look at the overall month, instead of just Black Friday,” said Laura Gurski, retail practice leader at A.T. Kearney.

Lauren Beckley, a 28-year-old retail co-manager in Cincinnati, said she got a promotion at work this year but still plans to cut her holiday spending by 50 percent. This year, rather than scrambling at the last minute, she started shopping in July, taking advantage of “Christmas in July” promotions that were embraced by more retailers this year.

“I think I am bargain hunting a little more,” said Ms. Beckley while browsing for DVDs at a Best Buy in suburban Cincinnati on Saturday.

Stores hope to keep shoppers coming back with continual deals and early-morning events on weekends. But some industry analysts question whether the lull between Thanksgiving weekend and the days before Christmas will be even more pronounced than usual.

“I believe customers will be waiting for the next round of deals,” Ms. Gurski added.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe described the weekend as a “success.”

“I think retailers have won the battle of driving customers into the stores, but have they won the war? We won’t know until January,” he said.

Amy Adoniz, general store manager at Best Buy’s Union Square store in New York, reported steady traffic through the weekend after the frenzy Friday. The best sellers have been TVs and laptop computers, but shoppers also are throwing in extra items such as Blu-ray players and cables that they hadn’t planned, she said. They’re also springing for more expensive items, she said.

Mall operators Taubman Centers Inc. and Macerich Co. both reported sales and traffic gains compared with last year, and traffic remained steady through the weekend. Both reported that shoppers’ buying for themselves remained strong. Footwear and clothing were big sellers.

Analysts are also watching stores’ inventories. Earlier this fall, many retailers worried they had ordered too much holiday merchandise in the spring when the economy appeared to be strengthening.

There was scattered evidence those worries continue. Gap offered 50 percent discounts throughout its stores until 10 a.m. Friday, rather than discounting fewer items to draw shoppers.

Dana Telsey, CEO of Telsey Advisory Group, said Sunday that she believed inventories were appropriate and retailer profits aren’t in danger yet. Dec. 15-24, which accounts for 40 percent of holiday business, will tell the tale.

“It’s the crux of the season,” she said.

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