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Store traffic doesn’t let up

Times Staff Writers

Momentum from Friday’s stronger-than-expected start to the holiday shopping season rolled through the weekend as bargain hunters crowded malls and drove up traffic on popular websites.

As they bought gifts for others, shoppers also collected stuff for their own stockings. For many Americans, the kickoff to Christmas shopping has become more like One-for-You-and-Two-for-Me Weekend.

Data from the National Retail Federation indicated that by Sunday night, more than 147 million people had hit the stores over the weekend, up 4.8% over last year.

Although consumers spent 3.5% less per person during the weekend than last year -- $347.44, according to the federation -- retailers made up for the lower expenditures by drawing 7 million more shoppers this weekend. That higher traffic will translate to higher sales, said Scott Krugman, a spokesperson for the Washington-based trade group.

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“It’s kind of encouraging that Black Friday didn’t suck all the wind out of shoppers’ sails,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which monitors 45,000 retail outlets. The weekend turnout, he added, “bodes well for the holiday season.”

ShopperTrak found in-store sales Saturday were up 5.4% over last year and the Friday-Saturday total posted a 7.2% increase over 2006.

Online traffic rose 10% from a year earlier, according to data released Sunday from research firm Nielsen Online.

As in past years, “doorbuster” deals coaxed many to open their wallets. In addition to pushing flat-screen TVs, last year’s must-have item, retailers have used less expensive electronics to bait consumers who vow to spend less this year, Krugman said. Hot sellers included digital photo frames and cameras. Deals on laptops were also common.

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Many shoppers who rushed to the stores early found only a handful of some advertised bargains in stock, said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group. “There were a lot of unhappy customers,” he said, adding that some stores said they didn’t get their shipments.

Friday was a harried shopping day for Jharonne Martis, who began searching for a Microsoft Zune, a portable media player, in Queens, N.Y., before sunrise. The research analyst was second in line at a Radio Shack that was opening at 6 a.m. The store had only two in stock, she said, and she lost out.

By 6:40, Martis was at Best Buy, where shoppers were collecting iPods, DVDs and vacuum cleaners so fast that she nearly missed the chance to snag the “Sex and the City” DVD series, which was marked down to $100, half the original price. “A lady put it down and I grabbed it right away,” she said.

Some who missed out on in-store bargains found them online, helping drive up Friday traffic to online retailers to 21.2 million unique visitors, compared with 19.2 million a year earlier, according to the Nielsen data.

Retailers hope to keep those numbers up by offering online bargains beginning today.

Toys R Us Inc., EToys.com and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are among those holding online sales. Dozens of other retailers, including Target Corp., Sears and Crate & Barrel, are offering free shipping today.

Some shoppers may have reined in their in-store shopping this weekend, waiting to see what retailers will offer online this week, said Kathy Grannis, another retail federation spokesperson.

The spirit of giving drives much of the annual holiday buying spree, but so does a bit of self-indulgence. Americans on average will spend $106 on themselves this season, according to federation data, on top of the $816 they’ll spend on gifts for others, cards, candy and decorations.

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“They’ve gone all year saying ‘No, no, no,’ and are finally going to treat themselves,” Grannis said.

Rachel Craig, a first-grade teacher from Phoenix who was perusing the hat racks at Saks Fifth Avenue in San Francisco on Friday with her mother and sister-in-law, admitted as much.

“We’re buying for ourselves -- we’re not going to lie,” she said. “It’s my retail therapy time.”

Mindy Fontanilla, shopping with friends at the Camarillo Premium Outlets over the weekend, had the same idea.

“You grab what you think you like, what you could potentially like, and buy it,” said Fontanilla, 35, a manicurist from Torrance. “You can always return it.”

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molly.selvin@latimes.com

leslie.earnest@latimes.com

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Staff writers Daniela Perdomo and Andrea Chang contributed to this report.


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