From Apple to Wal-Mart, the first round of results from the hotly anticipated holiday buying season point toward another banner year for consumer electronics retailers and e-commerce sites.
A number of sources reported strong demand from consumers in the retail market on Monday as buyers flocked to stores and Web sites over the weekend.
The unofficial kickoff to the annual end-of-the-year consumer spending spree came the day after the Thanksgiving holiday, a day that is increasingly being referred to as "Black Friday."
The event takes its colorful nickname for helping consumer products manufacturers and distributors achieve profitability, or get "into the black," for the year.
According to Internet statisticians Nielsen/NetRatings, the first weekend of the holiday buying season was a resounding success for online retailers, or e-tailers, as the New York-based research group reported a 29 percent increase in its eShopping Index, which measures e-commerce site traffic.
Nielsen/NetRatings said that based on the survey of over 100 e-tail companies, those firms drew 17.2 million unique visits on Friday alone, a substantial increase over the 13.3 million hits that e-commerce sites tracked by the group attracted on the same day last year.
Among the big winners according to Nielsen/NetRatings results were online auctioneer eBay Inc., e-tailer Amazon.com and the Web site for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
The research firm reported that eBay was the top online retailer on Black Friday, with 9.5 million unique visitors, followed by Amazon and Wal-Mart Stores, which drew 4.6 million and 3.4 million unique visitors, respectively.
Rounding out the top five performers were the sites of retail chains Target Corp. and Best Buy Co., which attracted unique audiences of 2.9 million and 2.1 million, respectively.
The same group of retailers led Nielsen/NetRatings 2004 Black Friday list, and were joined in the top ten this year by Circuitcity.com, Dell.com and the Shopzilla.com Network.
According to researchers at the National Retail Federation, which is based in Washington and represents the interests of the retail industry, over 145 million people hit the stores and the Internet over the weekend with the average consumer spending just over $300.
If accurate, that figure would indicate that total revenue for retailers was $27.8 billion, a sizeable 21.9 percent increase over the $22.8 billion spent over the same timeframe in 2004.
The NRF estimated that over 60 million people hit retail stores and sites on Black Friday, representing an increase of 7.9 percent over the same day last year.
The industry group said that an additional 52.8 million shoppers were out on Saturday, a gain of 13.3 percent over 2004, and reported that as many as 22 million people hit retailers on Sunday.
Despite the early returns, NRF executives pointed out that retailers will need to drive additional sales to meet last years figures and improve on 2004 results.
"As expected, retailers offered substantial discounts and savings on Black Friday to bring people into their stores and consumers held up their end of the bargain by shopping," NRF CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.