Walmart, Retailers Boom on Black Friday

PHOTO: Workers and supporters march outside a local Wal-Mart retail store on Black Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisc.Darren Hauck/Getty Images
Workers and supporters march outside a local Wal-Mart retail store on Black Friday, Nov. 23, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Walmart defied the threat of protests to claim the busiest Black Friday in its history, and indications are that earlier store openings and a rebounding economy pushed sales well above last year's level.

Bolstered by the early store openings, Thursday night and Black Friday sales have shown a frenzy of activity, according to early estimates.

Data shows that Chase credit card retail spending at stores across the country was up 251 percent in stores between 6 p.m. and midnight Thursday. But online sales also increased 9.7 percent in the 24-hour period starting 10 p.m. ET Wednesday, Chase Holiday Pulse reported on Friday afternoon.

The number of transactions increased 93 percent in-store and 34 percent online.

In-store shoppers seemed to shell out more on big-ticket items, the average ticket price increased 81 percent. But online, there was an 18 percent drop in the average ticket price compared to last year, according to Chase Holiday Pulse.

Paypal said mobile payment volume increased 173 percent on Thanksgiving day compared to the holiday last year as more people use their mobile devices to make purchases.

The National Retail Federation estimates holiday sales will increase 4.1 percent this year to $586 billion.

The surge in sales was seen at Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, which announced 22 million customers came to its stores on Thursday. The company, which opened its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, also announced it had 10 million register transactions.

A spokeswoman said it was its busiest ever Black Friday and that this was the first time the company has released Black Friday customer traffic data.

The franchise racked up those numbers despite the threat of protests at its stores Thursday night.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union said protests were held outside 100 Walmarts, but Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and CEO, said only 26 protests took place.

"Many of them did not include any Walmart associates," Simon said, and the number of walk-offs were lower than the UFCW had estimated, with fewer than 50 employees participating in the protest.

"In fact, this year, roughly the same number of associates missed their scheduled shift as last year," Simon said.

Our Walmart, an organization sponsored by the UFCW, said Walmart employees in a handful of cities including Miami, Dallas, and Wisconsin, walked off the job on Thursday.

"Walmart has spent the last 50 years pushing its way on workers and communities," said Mary Pat Tifft in a statement, an employee of 24 years who led a protest on Thursday evening in Kenosha, Wisc. "In just one year, leaders of OUR Walmart and Warehouse Workers United have begun to prove that change is coming to the world's largest employer."

However, during the high traffic period from 8 p.m. through midnight, Walmart said it processed nearly 10 million register transactions and almost 5,000 items per second.

In preparation of interruptions to one of its busiest shopping weekends of the year, Walmart, the largest employer in the country with 4,000 U.S. locations, had requested last Friday that the National Labor Relations Board issue an injunction against planned protests outside Walmart stores during Black Friday, but the NLRB Office of General Counsel said it needed more time to conduct an investigation and issue a decision.

Walmart does not recognize an official workers' union and alleges that the UFCW union is organizing illegal picketing at its stores.

Labor advocates critical of Walmart say it does not pay workers enough and many part-time workers are unable to work more hours and earn additional income.

Colby Harris, a full-time Walmart employee in Lancaster, Texas, for the last three years, said workers were protesting by walking off their shifts.

Harris, 22, said he left his shift of 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday along with a handful of associates. He plans to return to work for his next shift on Monday at 5 a.m.

"Nationwide workers are continuing to go on strike as we speak," he said.