Black Friday is only the start of weekend shopping binge in US

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Devoted Black Friday shoppers were out in large numbers taking advantage of bargains across the United States on the traditional opening day of the biggest retail period of the year.

An estimated 135.8 million people planned to shop between Thursday and Sunday in stores or online, spending upwards of 50 billion dollars, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). That’s up from almost 134 million shoppers last year, the organization said in its annual preliminary survey of the shopping weekend.

The NRF said sales in November and December excluding cars, petrol and restaurant sales are expected to increase 3.7 per cent to 630.5 billion dollars, which is higher than the 10-year average of 2.5 per cent.

This year the NRF says sales for the period from Black Friday through December 24 are expected to represent approximately 19 per cent of the retail industry’s annual sales of 3.2 trillion dollars. The NRF said online sales are expected to increase between 6 and 8 per cent to as much as 105 billion dollars.

Research by the consultancy firm Deloitte said Americans plan to spend 369 dollars over the course of the holiday weekend, a nearly 25-per-cent increase over the amount they said they would spend in last year’s survey.

A lot of those dollars will be spent at Wal-Mart stores and at its website, said Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer at the world’s largest retailer.

Bratspies said the retailer started offering deals online early Thursday. Its stores were open all day on Thanksgiving, and more deals kicked in during the evening hours.

Wal-Mart had said it had planned this Black Friday for a year, promising it would be “the most integrated” between its store locations and its website. The retailer said “tens of millions of customers” visited its website and its stores to buy.

Hundreds of people snaked through the aisles at a Wal-Mart in Wallingford, Connecticut, hoping to buy snap up tablets, flat-screen TVs and other electronics, CNN reported.

Deep discounts are what draw people out. An 80-centimetre Roku TV for 125 dollars and Beats by Dre headsets for half price. The deals sometimes send people into a frenzy, with some scuffles reported, including a few that were filmed by by-standers and posted on social media websites.

The NRF also is advertising a relatively new Black Friday weekend retail promotion. It wants shoppers to spend money at small businesses across the country on Saturday.

At least one store, outdoor equipment retailer REI, wanted nothing to do with heavy shopping over the holiday weekend.

Many saw it as an infringement on the holiday, which is traditionally reserved for family gatherings around a turkey dinner. REI gave its 12,000 employees paid vacation days off and encouraged them to spend time in nature.

“Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the essential truth that life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside,” said chief executive Jerry Stritzke.

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