New York - US shoppers spent heavily online on the crucial Black Friday shopping day, for the first time topping a billion dollars in online sales in a single day, analysts and retailers said.
The four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend is the kickoff to the US holiday shopping season, and Black Friday has long been considered the critical day that turns retailers' books from red to black.
Consumer spending makes up more than two thirds of US economic activity. So the short but busiest consumer sales season has a huge importance to the US economy for the whole year.
This year, online shoppers spent a grand total of $1.042bn on Friday, surpassing last year's Black Friday haul by 26%, according to the consulting firm Comscore.
Another study by IMB Benchmark Digital Analytics saw an increase of 21% in internet sales, with a surge in orders of mobile devices and tablet computers, in particular.
But the new record might be short-lived.
Coming next is "CyberMonday", the day Americans go back to work and online retailers launch heavy promotions to reel in more shoppers.
"According to norms we've observed over the past three years," retail analyst ShopperTrak said, the Monday after Thanksgiving "should be the heaviest online shopping day of the season with sales approaching $1.5bn or even higher".
Across the four-day weekend, US shoppers spent $59.1bn dollars, a jump of 13% over the previous year, the National Retail Federation announced.
"It's phenomenal," NRF director Mathew Shay told reporters at a press conference, saying the numbers bode well for the holiday season despite the still-struggling economy.
American consumers spent an average of $423 this weekend, compared to $398 last year, the group reported.
However, the NRF did not revise its prediction for the US holiday shopping season as a whole, keeping it at a 4.1% increase year on year, arguing that consumers remain cautious about the economy.
The looming threat of the "fiscal cliff," which could send taxes soaring if Republicans and Democrats do not reach a compromise on reducing the deficit before the end of the year, also had the retailers worried.
And despite the good numbers overall, sales at brick-and-mortar locations were sluggish on "Black Friday": in-store traffic increased by 3.5% on Friday with more than 307 million visitors, but total sales actually went down compared to the previous year by 1.8%, according to ShopperTrak.
Some of the biggest numbers went to the stores that opened early on the Thanksgiving holiday itself - a growing trend, especially among large chain stores, that is turning the traditionally family-based holiday into a commercial event.
"Opening on Thanksgiving was a big win," the NRF's Shay said, noting that 35 million people went shopping, a 40% surge over the previous year.
Comscore also noted a jump in online Thanksgiving day sales, up 32% over 2011, with $633m in sales, though the IMB Benchmark Digital Analytics survey saw a more modest gain of 17.4%.
But ShopperTrak noted that the Thanksgiving day shopping may have undercut spending usually meant for Friday, without increasing the overall numbers.
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