Web Clicks For Many Shoppers

While the Thanksgiving weekend marks the official start of the holiday shopping season for brick-and-mortar stores, Monday is traditionally the biggest day of the season for online retailers. So far, the early signs bode well.

"They're saying as many as 40 percent of consumers are going to buy some gifts online this holiday season, more than 30 percent doing it from work, so we should see a lot of virtual cash registers ringing over the next few days," says CBS News Technology Consultant Larry Magid (story).

Non-travel online retail sales rose 22 percent to $1.89 billion on Friday, an increase of 22 percent, compared to the day after Thanksgiving a year ago, according to comScore Networks, an Internet research firm.

Yahoo! Shopping reported that the number of visits to its site rose 52 percent on Friday, better than the 30 percent jump expected.

But Monday is the big day online.

"Overall, between this week and the end of the holiday season, we can expect almost $20 billion worth of online sales," said Magid.

The nation's brick-and-mortar retailers had a modest start to the holiday shopping season as consumers jammed stores on Black Friday in higher numbers than a year ago, but seemed to lose interest once the early-bird specials were over.

"There was a lot of hype, a lot of promotions and lot of people, but the results were on the lukewarm side," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, estimating that the weekend's sales were down from a year ago.

Analysts said there was heavy shopper traffic for the day after Thanksgiving — known as Black Friday because the surge of shoppers supposedly pushes stores into profitability for the year. But consumers apparently lost their enthusiasm.

"Consumers are still playing a game of chicken with the retail stores, waiting for better bargains as it gets closer to the Christmas season," retail analyst Burt Flickinger told CBS Radio News. "Friday got off to good start, but the sales started to slip on Saturday and a little bit more on Sunday, as cost-conscious consumers were really browsing more than buying."

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which stumbled in the 2004 holiday season by not offering enough discounts, was back in the game, attracting hordes of shoppers in the pre-dawn hours Friday with discounted TVs and DVD players. Its efforts appeared to have paid off; it reported better-than expected sales Friday and estimated that November sales at stores open at least a year would be up 4.3 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said traffic and sales over the weekend were better than expected, but didn't give details. Toys R Us Inc. spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said the company was pleased with results for the weekend, and cited such best-selling bargains as Mattel Inc.'s Barbie Fashion Mall and MGA's Bratz doll styling head.

Preliminary figures from ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which monitors sales at more than 45,000 retail outlets, found that business dropped off dramatically on Saturday, resulting in the weekend's results being weaker than a year ago. Actual results for Saturday won't be available until Monday.

The National Retail Federation offered a more upbeat report. According to a survey of 4,209 consumers conducted by Bigresearch on Friday and Saturday, total weekend spending from Thanksgiving Day through Sunday totaled $27.8 billion, a 21.9 percent increase over last year's $22.8 billion. The figures include online spending.

"I think retailers are incredibly happy with the sales they saw for Black Friday," NRF vice president Scott Krugman told CBS Radio News.

A clearer picture will emerge Thursday, when retailers report sales results for all of November.

Forecasts for holiday shopping have improved in recent weeks amid declining gasoline prices. But gas is still more expensive than this time last year, and shoppers face higher heating bills this winter. Given such challenges, stores tried to lure shoppers with more enticing bargains, expanded hours on Friday and other gimmicks.

At a Target store in Warwick, R.I., Dwight Garrett was pleased with a DVD player, marked down to $29.97 from $44.99.

"You can't beat the price," said Garrett, who had traveled with his wife from Plainfield, Conn., to shop at Target, Penney and other stores along a road of big-box outlets in Warwick.

Others weren't satisfied with the discounts.

"There's nothing special about the deals. They're the same as any other weekend sale," said Nikhilesh Agarwal of York, Pa., who was shopping at Towson Town Center in Towson, Md.

Shopping online may not be completely hassle-free, warns Magid.

"It is quite possible that you may have to wait a few seconds, and they're just seconds, but that sure beats the waiting in long lines and looking for parking spaces if you go the old-fashioned way of shopping," the CBSNews.com columnist said.

"Be a little patient, and be aware that just as stores can run out of items on their shelves, online stores can run out of items also, so you may not be able to get exactly what you want your first time, but fortunately, it's real easy to go across the street, so to speak, to another Web site and keep searching until you find what you want."