Black Friday sales plummeted this year.
Total Thanksgiving weekend spending declined 11% to $US50.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Stores saw about 6 million fewer shoppers than expected.
The decline was especially disappointing because analysts had predicted the biggest holiday shopping season of all time. Sluggish sales could indicate that despite lower gas prices, middle-class Americans are continuing to struggle.
The National Retail Federation provided a more optimistic explanation for why sales were down: many stores started promotions early in the week to gain an advantage over the competition.
Retail giant Wal-Mart was the most notable company to jump the gun on Black Friday.
The company discounted 20,000 items in the weeks leading up to the holiday, twice as many as the year before.
Wal-Mart also increased the number of items available online from 1 million to 7 million and offered more shipping options.
The efforts paid off — Wal-Mart reported record online sales for Thanksgiving.
National Retail Federation CEO Matt Shay told Fortune that early deals from Wal-Mart and others could have impacted traditional Black Friday weekend numbers.
Shoppers might see a great deal from Wal-Mart earlier in the week and decide they aren’t going to brave stores later.
“Every day is going to be Black Friday, every minute will be Cyber Monday,” Shay told Phil Wahba at Fortune.
The NRF predicts holiday sales will rise 4.1% this year.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.