NEW YORK - Early discounting, more online shopping and a mixed economy meant fewer people shopped over Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said Sunday.
Overall, 133.7 million people shopped in stores and online over the four-day weekend, down 5.2 percent from last year, according to a survey of 4,631 people conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics for the trade group.
Total spending for the weekend is expected to fall 11 percent to $50.9 billion from an estimated $57.4 billion last year, the trade group estimated.
Part of the reason is that Target, J.C. Penney, Macy's, Wal-Mart and other major retailers pushed fat discounts as early as Halloween. Some opened stores even earlier on Thanksgiving. All that stole some thunder from Black Friday and the rest of the weekend.
Still, the preliminary data makes retailers worried that shoppers remain frugal despite improving employment and falling gas prices.
Matt Shay, the trade group's CEO, said he thinks people benefiting from the recovery may not feel the need to fight crowds to get the deepest discount on a TV or toaster. And shoppers are still feeling the effects of high food prices and stagnant wages.
"While they're more optimistic, they're very cautious," Shay said. "If the deals are not right for them, they're not going to spend."
Bottom line: Expect more deep discounts, all season long.
That could be what it takes to get shoppers to open their wallets for the holiday season, which accounts for about 20 percent of annual retail sales.
Besides economic factors, people are becoming more discerning when they shop. Armed with smartphones and price-comparison apps, they know what's a good deal - and what's not.
Many may look on the Internet on Monday, the online shopping day often called Cyber Monday.
The National Retail Federation is still predicting a 4.1 percent increase in sales for the season. That would be the highest increase since the 4.8 percent gain in 2011.