November retail sales grow less than in 2010

— -- Record sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday weren't enough to significantly boost last month's retail performance.

November posted 3.2% retail sales growth, vs. a 5.5% gain last year, research firm Retail Metrics reported Thursday.

Despite record sales through Black Friday weekend, Retail Metrics President Ken Perkins says the year's biggest shopping weekend was preceded by a dry spell.

"Black Friday itself was a success," he says. "The numbers were particularly strong, but the rest of November there was a bit of a lull."

However, with retailers such as Walmart and most online sales data not included, Perkins says the data may not be fully representative of how the month truly went.

"The numbers might even be stronger if you did have online numbers, given the strength of what we saw for both Black Friday and Cyber Monday online," he says.

Cyber Monday saw sales growth of 33%, according to IBM Smarter Commerce. And the overall data released for November represent only 9% of total retailers, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consultants Customer Growth Partners. Johnson also adds that November accounts for less than half of holiday sales.

Still, almost 60% of the 24 retailers included in the data exceeded expectations, with department stores Saks and Nordstrom up 9.3% and 5.6%, respectively. Wholesaler Costco was up 6%.

Weaker performances by stores including Target, Kohl's and J.C. Penney are a direct reflection of their decision not to open on Thanksgiving, Johnson says.

"Walmart was open on Thanksgiving itself, and they were all dark," he says of the three retailers, which all opened at 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

The question now, Perkins says, is whether stores can carry momentum from Black Friday and Cyber Monday into this month.

Johnson says they can, adding that the November sales increase bodes well for the holiday shopping season. He predicts a 6.5% sales increase for November and December combined.

"The immediate two days after Black Friday, there's always a bit of a lull," he says. "But in another few days, it will pick up again."

Perkins doesn't have as positive an outlook.

"It's going to be a decent but not great December," Perkins says. "I don't expect any dramatic surges."