So now that everybody has added up the numbers, how did stores do on Thanksgiving weekend — the traditional start for the holiday spending season?
It all depends on who you ask.
And what you ask.
The International Council of Shopping Centers, which a month ago labeled the annual November-December spending spree as a "season of worry" for shops, said Tuesday that U.S. consumers spent nearly 1 percent less last week than they spent the week before — not welcome news.
And that’s despite the hottest gift of the year, the Xbox 360, hitting shelves and selling out in less than a day and Black Friday, historically one of the top five shopping days of the year.
On the other hand, Visa USA said spending on Visa cards Friday and Saturday was up a whopping 15 percent from a year earlier.
And the always optimistic National Retail Federation said Thanksgiving weekend sales soared 22 percent from the same time period in 2004.
"An NRF survey conducted by BIGresearch found that the average shopper spent $302.81 this weekend, bringing total weekend spending to $27.8 billion, an incredible 21.9 percent increase over last year’s $22.8 billion," NRF said in a statement.
Locally, Westcor, which owns all East Valley regional malls expect Arizona Mills in Tempe, issued a subdued commentary on the weekend.
"The majority of Westcor retailers reported sales and traffic matched or exceeded last year’s figures on the day after Thanksgiving,’’ the company wrote in an e-mail.
"The American Eagle clothing store at Paradise Valley Mall recorded Sunday as the strongest sales day of the holiday weekend, while the Bath & Body Works store at the same mall recorded Friday as their strongest sales day. KB Toy Store at Superstition Springs Center reported that Saturday and Sunday sales were stronger than Black Friday sales."
So what really happened last week, and why such a different take by various experts?
Part of the discrepancy is the basis of the estimate.
ICSC checks sales results of 75 big chain stores from Wal-Mart to Walgreen’s and only counts sales at stores that have been open for at least a year.
For its take on the weekend, NRF asked a sample of shoppers how much they spent and used statistical methods to determine the total U.S. population’s spending.
Visa counted credit card purchases. Westcor asked merchants how they fared.
A better gauge of what really happened will be available when individual retailers provide exact financial information, but that will be a post mortem on the season.
In the meantime, despite the few heady reports, retailers are unlikely to count on them and jack up prices. All the experts agree on at least one thing — this should be a heavily promotional season throughout.