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Bargain Hunters Crowd Malls

Retailers, optimistic about the holiday shopping season with recent gains in consumer confidence and on Wall Street, saw a lot of bargain hunters over the Thanksgiving weekend.

"Price remains No. 1 on everyone's list, and we saw that shoppers would buy if they thought the price was right," said Kurt Barnard, a consultant and president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report in Upper Montclair, N.J.

Even in these healthy economic times, consumers put value above most else when making a purchase. Discount stores like Wal-Mart and Target were big winners over the weekend.

Toy stores, too, found shoppers buying discounted merchandise, with many retailers offering price cuts on everything from Barbie dolls to Blue's Clues games. Crowds also gathered for the hard-to-find Furby dolls, which sold out of most stores.

CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston reports that when it comes to toys, traditional playthings are getting stiff competition from technology.

This year's hot seller, the Furby, is a computer-enhanced furry toy that speaks its own language, Furbish, to other Furbies. It learns English, and can even say your child's name.
Also on the shelves is a programmable microcomputer from Lego and MIT and an interactive Winnie the Pooh, complete with instructions on a CD-ROM.

And while traditional toy sales are flat this year, high-tech toys are flying off the shelves.

Many merchants are going to great lengths this year to encourage shoppers to buy early in the season rather than wait until the days before and after Christmas, when stores slash prices to clear inventories.

The biggest push came on Friday, when more merchants than ever opened before dawn and used incentives - ranging from free giveaways to significant price cuts - to entice shoppers to arrive early.

The promotions drew record crowds, with some stores reporting that thousands of people were waiting for their doors to open.

"I saved $100," Joe DiMattia said proudly after he bought a new coat for his wife at the Quakerbridge Mall in Lawrence Township, N.J.

TeleCheck Services Inc., a check approval service, said the number of sales paid for by check on Friday rose 4.4 percent from the same day a year ago.

Many stores, however, reported that sales slowed as the weekend progressed. That was attributed to the far fewer promotions taking place and warmer-than-usual weather throughout much of the country.

"The stores that offered the great deals early on were absolutely the most successful this weekend," said Kimberly Baughman, general manager of the Great Lakes Crossing mall in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Even with the slowdown on Saturday, many stores reported healthy sales gains for the weekend. But many remained cautious Sunday, knowing that stock market volatility or unusual weather in the coming weeks could keep shoppers home.

"People are feeling very upbeat," said John Konarsi, vice president of research for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based trade group. "But they know most of their season is still to come."

Especially strong this weekend were discount stores, which lured value-oriented consumers who like the wide selection of merchandise that's available under one roof.

Department stores, however, continued to struggle this weekend, their already troubled businesses hurt by the warm weather in the Midwest and Northeast that inspired few shoppers to buy sweaters or winter coats.

Retailers now have 25 shopping days left until Christmas, and they are counting on people like Shawn Winstead to keep spending through the holiday season.

"Normally, I have an amount beside each name" to spend on holiday gifts, she said this weekend while shopping at the Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, N.C. "This year, I just relaxed on that."

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