Black Friday Sets Sales Record

The holiday shopping season is off to a great start as sales for 2011 Black Friday weekend came in at a record-setting $52.4 billion. The National Retail Federation reports that 226 million people visited bricks-and-mortar stores and shopped online in the days after Thanksgiving, spending money on clothes (51.4 percent of shoppers), electronics (39.4 percent of shoppers) and home decor items (21.3 percent of shoppers.)

“Stuffed to the brim from their holiday meals and eager to shop, more consumers than ever turned out for retailers' Black Friday promotions, a promising sign for the economic recovery,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “After an historic holiday weekend, retailers know the holiday season is far from over and will continue to look for ways to excite holiday shoppers and build on the momentum we've seen thus far.”

Shopper Trak reports that during Friday alone shoppers spent $11.4 billion--the biggest dollar amount ever. Foot traffic during the day went up 5.1 percent over the traffic recorded last year.

Nevertheless, the blog RetailSails warns that Black Friday sales don't always serve as an accurate predictor of how the entire holiday shopping season will play out. The blog points to 2008, when shoppers also spent a record amount of money over the Black Friday weekend, then tightened their purse strings for the rest of the year.

What's more, The Big Picture warns that many of the sales figures were inflated by dubious counting measures. According to The Big Picture:

We actually have no idea just yet as to whether, and exactly how much, sales climbed. The data simply is not in yet. The most you can accurately say is, according to some foot traffic measurements, more people appeared to be in stores on Black Friday 2011 than in 2010.

Certainly, a lot of the sales this year, as during the previous few years, were driven by early openings and super promotions. Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Toys 'R' Us stores opened at midnight on Thursday, according to Business Insider, as did Mall of America. About 15,000 people showed up at the mall that night, the largest Black Friday crowd ever. Unseasonably warm weather also helped bring people into stores.

Large crowds and blockbluster deals, however, led to some ugly behavior by shoppers across the country. A woman shopping at a Walmart store in Los Angeles, for instance, used pepper spray to keep others away from the items she wanted to buy. In Michigan, a teenager was trampled on as she got caught in the rush to snag discounted electronics. In Alabama, police had to use a stun gun to subdue an unruly, intoxicated shopper. In yet another incident, a man was shot for refusing to hand over his family's newly purchased loot to robbers.

The Business Insider has put together a list of videos chronicling multiple Black Friday scuffles.

The question for retail analysts today seems to be if we should pay more attention to the record-breaking sales volume, or to the desperation people are showing in the fight for discounted goods.

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