Holiday off to positive start as retailers gear up for Cyber Monday

New York - The holiday shopping season got off to a positive if unspectacular start, according to preliminary results from the Black Friday weekend. The number of people who shopped at stores and online between Thursday and Sunday was up 8.7% to 212 million shoppers, according to a National Retail Federation survey of 4,306 shoppers conducted by BIGresearch. The total amount spent during the four-day weekend reached an estimated $45 billion, with the average spending rising 6.4% to $365.34, the survey showed.

Online-specific data from IBM's Coremetrics also pointed to strong momentum in the early part of the season, with total sales up more than 14% between Thanksgiving and Saturday. Average order size was up 14% while items per order were up 15% during the time, according to Coremetrics data.

However, there are also some reports of caution. ShopperTrak estimated Black Friday sales rose a less than expected 0.3% to $10.69 billion even as traffic increased 2.2%. The slower-than-expected sales were partly due to early holiday sales and promotions that boosted sales and traffic in the first half of the month, according to ShopperTrak.

"This means the American shopper has adapted to the economic climate over the last couple of years and is possibly spending more wisely as the holiday season begins," said ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.

A record 106.9 million shoppers are expected to hit retailers' websites Monday, up 11% from last year, as more retailers offer deals online and tout free shipping, according to a separate NRF survey, also conducted by BIGresearch.

About nine in 10 retailers said they will have a special promotion for Cyber Monday, which has grown each year since 2007, when 72.2% planned promotions, NRF said.

Early indications point to a strong online holiday. comScore said that online sales totaled $648 million on Black Friday -- a 9% jump from last year. That makes Black Friday the heaviest day of online spending so far in 2010, according to the report.

Amazon was the most popular shopping site on Black Friday, experiencing a 25% boost in traffic, according to comScore. Other leading sites included Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy.