'Black Friday' Seems Bright for Retailers

The frenzy of "Black Friday" has given way to "Sensible Saturday." Malls and big box retailers came off their adrenaline high and gave way to more laid-back shoppers.

"We were scared to come today," said Charles Pace, who was walking around the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., with his son. "But we were pleasantly surprised because there are not that many people here."

"Today seems to be a little more jovial," said John Kleinhenz, waiting outside a store for his daughter. "People seem a little more relaxed, I think. The tension is reduced."

It was a much different story Friday, when Type-A, caffeine-driven shoppers stormed stores coast-to-coast for bargains.

The door-busting gimmicks paid off. The retail tracking firm Shoppertrak reported Americans spent nearly $9 billion during the traditional kick-off to the holiday shopping season.

"Black Friday" is the day that retailers hope their ledgers move from red to black, and determine how the year's profits will look. This year, they look good. Sales were up a strong 6 percent from last year.

"It's a delightful way to start the holiday season," said Shoppertrak co-founder Bill Martin.

But Shoppertrak's data does not provide a complete picture. For example, industry heavyweight Wal-Mart is not included, and its sales were weak. The company estimates November sales fell one-tenth of one percent.

It's not just retailers that pay attention to the Black Friday numbers. Shoppers do too. The better the news, the likelier they are to spend through the holiday season. Retail analysts call it the "feel-good factor."

"If we hear that we've started off with a very strong holiday season, people feel good about what's happening in the general environment," said James Hurley of the Telsey Advisory Group. "They're more likely to spend as the season progresses."

Other economic indicators also are pointing up for retailers this year. With Christmas falling on a Monday, they've got an extra weekend for all those procrastinators. On top of that, gas prices have dropped, unemployment is low, the stock market is doing better and consumers are in the mood to spend.

That's great news for retailers, and even better news for the U.S. economy. Consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of our gross domestic product.

"Black Friday" set a very high bar, but analysts still expect "Super Saturday," the Saturday before Christmas, to be the biggest shopping day of the year.

Meantime, stores will open earlier and close later to get your business.