With Thanksgiving leftovers likely finished and the initial holiday shopping rush behind us, early sales results paint a positive picture for retailers.

From Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday, more than 174 million Americans shopped in stores or online, according to data from the National Retail Federation (NRF). That's 10 million more people than NRF had predicted would shop.

Those who hit the stores -- whether it was physically or virtually -- spent an average of $335.47, with 75% of that going toward gifts. Older millennials (25 to 34 years old) were the biggest spenders, averaging $419.52.

"All the fundamentals were in place for consumers to take advantage of incredible deals and promotions retailers had to offer," said NRF CEO Matthew Shay in a press release. "From good weather across the country to low unemployment and strong consumer confidence, the climate was right, literally and figuratively, for consumers to tackle their holiday shopping lists online and in stores."

Of course, the holiday shopping season really runs right up to Christmas, so early winners could still trip up. So far, however, these are some of the big winners.

People holding shopping bags.

Consumers did head out to stores this Black Friday even as online sales grew. Image source: Getty Images.


When it comes to digital sales, there is Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), and then there is everyone else. The online leader accounted for 54.9% of all digital transactions on Black Friday (followed by nearly 60% on Cyber Monday), according to data from Hitwise. Second-place Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) actually had its best online sales day on Thanksgiving, but it was below 10% of the total on all three major shopping days during the period.

Department stores

While it's still anecdotal, retailers including Kohl's and J.C. Penney put out statements touting their sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving. In addition, Macy's also made comments to CNBC about having strong traffic, noting that a problem processing credit cards would not have a meaningful impact on sales. 

"I think department stores had a reasonable time of it, better than last year," GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders told CNBC.

Stores in general

While it does not fit the retail apocalypse narrative, brick-and-mortar stores remained important on Black Friday and through the long weekend. Of the 174 million Americans who shopped during the long weekend, 64 million shopped both online and in stores, according to NRF. In addition, another 51 million shopped only in stores.

That means that 115 million shoppers out of 174 million visited stores. And, those who shopped both in-store and online "spent $82 more on average than the online-only shopper, and $49 more on average than those shoppers who only shopped in stores," NRF wrote.

Hot sellers

Every holiday shopping season has its share of hard-to-get items due to heavy demand. This year, that list includes Nintendo Switch, Hatchimals & Colleggtibles toys, PJ Masks, L.O.L. Surprise Dolls, Ride On Cars (all brands), as well as Chromecast and Roku streaming devices, according to data from Adobe Digital Insights. In addition, retailers have had trouble keeping the Fingerlings toys in stock and the popular InstantPot cooking device was hard, but not impossible, to find on Black Friday. 


Overall spending on Thanksgiving and Black Friday grew by 11.9% year-over-year, according to a report from First Data. E-commerce spending, however, was up 29% over 2016, an increase from the 25% growth posted last year, and more than double the 14% increase in 2013.

"This year's report shows a significant increase in holiday retail sales versus last year, both before Thanksgiving and through Black Friday into Cyber Monday," First Data's head of information and analytics, Glenn Fodor, told The Motley Fool via email. "Electronics and appliances soared, with spending up over 19%, while sporting goods and hobby stores had the slowest growth at 1.3%. Still, with overall retail growth of 9.3%, it is clear that strong consumer economic health resulted in favorable spending trends."


Wal-Mart has not released holiday sales figures, but its success at building an omnichannel model was proven by its taking the No. 2 spot in digital transactions on Black Friday in the Hitwise data cited above. That bodes well for a chain that has traditionally been a Black Friday destination.

By offering shoppers the ability to order online and pickup in stores, along with taking online returns in its physical locations, the company has clearly positioned itself well. That bodes well for the company in the long term.

Black Friday success is not a guarantee

"We don't necessarily draw straight lines from this weekend to the rest of the holiday season,'' NRF CEO Matthew Shay told USA Today. "Lots of things can still change. But we're certainly encouraged that we're starting out from a position of strength."

There's a lot of time for new winners to emerge or the companies and categories above to get even stronger.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool recommends Adobe Systems. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.