Black Friday Is Not So Bleak After All

The pundits and observers had it wrong again. While analysts were wringing their hands over the economy, retailers were ringing up sales on Black Friday, the traditional start of the all-important holiday selling season.

According to the National Retail Federation, about 195 million consumers shopped in stores and online over the Black Friday weekend, up from 172 million last year. Total spending was $41.2 billion—a slight increase over the $42 billion spent a year ago.

More good news is that consumers bought more discretionary items than last year. Nearly 33% of shoppers purchased toys, that's up 13% from a year ago.

While gloom-and-doomers will note that consumers are spending less per shopper than they did last year--$343.31 per person vs. $372.57 a year ago—Black Friday's results show that Americans are out in force once again. Now the question is, will they find anything worth buying in department store settings that haven't changed much in nearly 100 years? And you thought the recession was long!