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In a positive sign for the U.S. economy, shoppers took advantage of deep discounts both online and in stores over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Black Friday online sales topped $1 billion for the first time, according to comScore, which measures online behavior.
Amazon.com was the most-visited retail website on Black Friday. Wal-Mart's website was second, followed by sites run by Best Buy, Target and Apple, comScore noted.
E-commerce accounts for less than 10 percent of consumer spending in the United States. However, it is growing much faster than bricks-and-mortar retail as shoppers are lured by low prices, convenience, faster shipping and wide selection.
More brick-and-mortar stores were open on Thanksgiving this year, with retailers such as Target, Sears and Toys R Us joining in, while others including Wal-Mart and Gap either extended their operating hours or had more stores doing business.
Traditionally, stores had waited until Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, to make their big push.
U.S. retailers' sales over the four-day holiday weekend increased an estimated 12.8 percent, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation.
More than 35 million Americans visited retailers’ stores and websites Thursday – up from 29 million last year, according to the survey. Despite concerns that the early Thanksgiving hours would cut into Black Friday results, nearly 89 million Americans still shopped on Black Friday -- up 3.1 percent over the 86.2 million who shopped that day last year.
After years of belt-tightening in a tough economy, Americans this year were apparently in the mood to shop. An estimated 139.4 million adults visited U.S. stores and websites from Thanksgiving through Sunday, up from 131 million last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Total spending for the weekend rose to $59.1 billion from $52.4 billion last year.
“From green beans to great deals, millions of Americans found time this Thanksgiving to make the most of retailers’ promotions and enjoy a special family holiday,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.
When accounting for people who shopped on more than one day, the total number of visits to stores and websites was 247 million, up from 226 million last year. Shoppers also spent more -- $423 compared to $398 last year.
The survey, conducted Nov 23-24 by BIGinsight for NRF, polled 4,005 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percent. The number of shoppers for Sunday is estimated.
Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.
“There’s no question that millions of people were drawn to retailers’ aggressive online promotions this weekend, making sure to research and compare prices days in advance to ensure they were getting the best deal they could,” said BIGinsight Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow in a statement. “However, with shopper traffic increasing at department, discount, and clothing stores over the weekend, it’s clear that consumers still recognize Black Friday as one of the biggest shopping days of the year, as they have for decades.”
It's not clear yet whether strong Black Friday sales will weaken growth on Cyber Monday, which has been the biggest e-commerce day in the United States in recent years.
"Cyber Monday will be a big day, but not as much of a big day as it has been in the past," said Mia Shernoff, executive vice president for Chase Paymentech, a payment-processing unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. "Faster broadband Internet connections in the office used to drive this. But now many consumers have faster connections at home and smart phones and tablets -- they don't have to wait."
Information from Reuters was included in this report.