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In recovery year, Black Friday may be busiest shopping day

Discounted bargains brought out Black Friday crowds, but one big weekend does not a holiday season make.

So while the day after Thanksgiving only rarely ranks as retailers' biggest sales day of the year, it was No. 1 in last year's recession-tainted holiday season. Experts at the International Council of Shopping Centers think it will be again.

This time Christmas falls on a Saturday, so retailers are confronted with a slowly recovering economy and the calendar. It dictates the last big weekend of the season will be a week before Santa arrives, spreading the last-minute rush over seven days. So Black Friday this year likely was the last big consumer splurge, not the Saturday or Sunday before Christmas that in more flush times are the two biggest days of the year.

Actual Black Friday sales figures start rolling in today. But early estimates say traffic hit a record high of 212 million shoppers and $45 billion spent over the four-day weekend. Spending rose modestly — estimates vary from 0.3 percent from ShopperTrak to 6 percent from the National Retail Federation.

"Encouraged" by the big Black Friday numbers, Phil Rist, president of Big Research, offered muted optimism: "It was consumers' search for deals and bargains that drove traffic rather than their confidence in the economy."

While shoppers can expect lots of 11th hour price-cutting on unsold apparel the final week, retailers insist they won't be desperate to cut prices as much this year because they only stocked up a little more than last year.

Here are the big Black Friday takeaways on the zeitgeist of the American consumer:

• After three years of sacrifice, shoppers led by the most affluent are starting to buy discretionary items for themselves again. Traffic at department and speciality stores rose 3 percentage points while traffic at discount stores slipped the same amount, said the National Retail Federation.

• Thanksgiving Day shopping is with us from now on. With more retailers open, traffic in stores and online doubled since 2005 to 22 million. Thanks to online retailers pushing Black Friday deals earlier, online sales jumped 28 percent to $407 million on Thanksgiving, reports comScore.

• After touting "Cyber Monday," which was yesterday, as one of their busiest days of the year, online retailers have finally trained enough shoppers with free shipping and deals to make it one. Cyber Monday sales likely doubled from 2005 to beyond $1 billion, up from $887 million in 2009. Meantime, the last free shipping deadline before Christmas (Dec. 13 in 2009 with $913 million) continues to be the biggest online day.

• IBM Coremetrics said 5.6 percent of the traffic on 500 retail sites it tracks came from a mobile device.

'Cause it's from Oz

Australian retailer Cotton On, surfer streetwear from Down Under, has opened its first store in the Tampa Bay market and only the 16th in the United States in Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. It is still looking in Tampa.

Stocked with Urban Outfitter looks at Old Navy prices, most men's and women's casual wear at Cotton On costs $5 to $20.

Founded in 1991, the chain grew to more than 600 stores in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia before trying to break into the U.S. market.

No crumby cupcakes

St. Petersburg shopping network HSN sold out of a new product cooked up by one of the winners from Kelly Ripa's TLC reality series Homemade Millionaire.

The brainchild of Debra Lee, a New Jersey mother of three, Bake Huggers prompted HSN celeb chef Emeril Lagasse to wonder why the solution eluded cupcake bakers so long.

They are no-muss, no-peeling-required liners for baking cupcakes — because they're edible. A pack of 48 went for $19.99.

In recovery year, Black Friday may be busiest shopping day 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:05am]

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