By Jennifer Tanner

The Valdosta Daily Times

It’s only a few weeks into the holiday shopping season yet sales are already topping last years.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) has released several reports comparing the early 2005 to 2004 holiday shopping, primarily Thanksgiving weekend known as “Black Friday.”

While NRF analysts predicted 130 million barging seekers that weekend, a mind blowing 144 million turned out hungry for post Thanksgiving sales with loaded wallets. The average shopper spent $302.81 that weekend inciting a total of $27.1 billion spent, up 21.9 percent from last year. Friday alone saw a 7.9 percent increase and Saturday an impressive 13.3 increase.

Men actually contributed more to this amount spending an average $334.07 compared to women who averaged $273.83. Southern shoppers averaged $330.02 per person, a higher amount than the average person spent in the Northeast, Midwest and West.

NRF reports also indicate that income level was a significant variable determining the amount spend that weekend as the average shopper making less than $50,000 per year spend about $230 where as the average shopper who earns over $50,000 per year spent about $150 more.

Where were the millions of shoppers looking for bargains at and what were they looking for? The NRF reports that most headed for discounters (67.7 percent), but others searched through department stores (47 percent), specialty stores (41.2 percent) and nearly one in three chose at least some shopping online. At one or more of these places, bargain hunters were very often looking for deals on clothing and accessories. Others chose books, CDs, DVDs, videos and video games.

The 144 million may have kicked off the Christmas holiday shopping season but only one in 13 have purchased presents for everyone they intend to. An NRF report claims the average person has completed only 35.6 percent of holiday shopping. With two weeks still to go, sales will continue rising, maybe to the NRF prediction of $439.5 billion.

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