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Thanksgiving Weekend Sales Fell by $1.7 Billion This Year

It wasn't a good weekend for U.S. retailers, particularly those of the brick-and-mortar variety.

It wasn't a good weekend for U.S. retailers, particularly those of the brick-and-mortar variety. Sales from the biggest four-day shopping period of the year -- from Thanksgiving Thursday through Sunday -- were down $1.7 billion to $57.4 billion, about 3 percent less than last year, according to data released by the National Retail Federation.

Retailers, of course, were hoping for a boost -- in large part because the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is especially narrow this year. Knowing this, many retailers began discounting early, in the weeks leading into Thanksgiving, which may have contributed to lower sales on the actual holiday weekend. Larger factors like unemployment (at 7.3 percent) and low confidence in an economic recovery likely also played a role.

However, it wasn't that fewer people shopped this year -- 141 million went out and shopped between Thursday and Sunday, 2 million more than last year -- it's that they simply spent less. On average, shoppers spent $407 over the four-day period, down from $424 last year.

Several retailers, including Macy's Herald Square flagship and Target, opened as early as 6 and 8 p.m. on the Thursday (yes, on Thanksgiving) -- earlier than ever before. The strategy worked, at least for getting people into stores earlier. Nearly a third of shoppers -- 45 million people in sum -- hit stores on Thanksgiving, up 27 percent from 2012, according to NRF. Still, Black Friday remained the dominant shopping day, with 92 million heading into stores for deals, up from 89 million last year.

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Although U.S. retailers suffered overall, online retailers had a great deal to celebrate. According to Adobe, online shoppers spent $1.06 billion on Thanksgiving Day, up 39 percent year-over-year, and another $1.93 billion on Black Friday, up 18 percent year-over-year (and more than expected). Online sales over the four-day period were up 14.5 percent from last year overall, according to a separate study from IBM. Tablets and smartphones fueled much of the growth, accounting for around a quarter of online sales over the period.

Given the surge in sales on Thanksgiving -- both in-store and online -- it's likely we'll see even more early store openings on Thanksgiving next year, and online promotions to match.

Cyber Monday sales are already off to a big start, up 21.4 percent over last year, according to IBM. If you're looking for some good deals, to sure to check out our guide.