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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

US Black Friday and Thanksgiving online sales soar

US retailers raked in a record US$7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving but malls looked to decline

An Amazon distribution centre during Black Friday. This year shoppers choose to shop online rather than traditionally queuing up through the night outside the shops before opening hours. Emilio Naranjo/EPA
An Amazon distribution centre during Black Friday. This year shoppers choose to shop online rather than traditionally queuing up through the night outside the shops before opening hours. Emilio Naranjo/EPA

Black Friday and Thanksgiving online sales in the United States surged to record highs as shoppers bagged deep discounts and bought more on their mobile devices, heralding a promising start to the key holiday season, according to retail analytics firms.

US retailers raked in a record US$7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, up 17.9 per cent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions at the largest 100 US Web retailers, on Saturday.

Adobe said Cyber Monday is expected to drive $6.6bn in internet sales, which would make it the largest US online shopping day in history.

In the run-up to the holiday weekend, traditional retailers invested heavily in improving their websites and bulking up delivery options, preempting a decline in visits to brick-and-mortar stores. Several chains tightened store inventories as well, to ward off any post-holiday liquidation that would weigh on profits.

TVs, laptops, toys and gaming consoles - particularly the PlayStation 4 - were among the most heavily discounted and the biggest sellers, according to retail analysts and consultants.

Commerce marketing firm Criteo said 40 per cent of Black Friday online purchases were made on mobile phones, up from 29 per cent last year.

No brick-and-mortar sales data for Thanksgiving or Black Friday was immediately available, but Reuters reporters and industry analysts noted anecdotal signs of muted activity - fewer cars in mall parking lots, shoppers leaving stores without purchases in hand.

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Stores offered heavy discounts, creative gimmicks and free gifts to draw bargain hunters out of their homes, but some shoppers said they were just browsing the merchandise, reserving their cash for internet purchases. There was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy customary of Black Fridays from past years.

However, the retail research firm ShopperTrak said store traffic fell less than 1 per cent on Black Friday, bucking industry predictions of a sharper decline.

"There has been a significant amount of debate surrounding the shifting importance of brick-and-mortar retail," said Brian Field, ShopperTrak's senior director of advisory services.

"The fact that shopper visits remained intact on Black Friday illustrates that physical retail is still highly relevant and when done right, it is profitable."

The National Retail Federation (NRF), which had predicted strong holiday sales helped by rising consumer confidence, said on Friday that fair weather across much of the nation had also helped draw shoppers into stores.

The NRF, whose overall industry sales data is closely watched each year, is scheduled to release Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales numbers on Tuesday.

US consumer confidence has been strengthening over this past year, due to a labour market that is churning out jobs, rising home prices and stock markets that are hovering at record highs.