U.S. retailers saw more people shopping in stores and online at the beginning of the traditional holiday shopping season, but they spent less overall.
The preliminary figures are important because stores rely on strong sales during November and December for much of their profit.
U.S. shoppers habitually throng stores on the Friday after the patriotic, religious, and family holiday of Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday late in November.
Most are gathering clothes, electronics, or toys for the gift exchanges associated with the Christmas holiday on December 25th.
In the four-day period beginning last Thursday, the number of shoppers rose about two million from last year to a total of 141 million. But they spent an average of nearly four percent less than the same period last year.
The lackluster sales came even though a growing number of retailers broke with tradition and were open on the Thursday holiday. It was the first sales decline for the Thanksgiving weekend in several years.
Economists and investors watch retail sales closely because consumer demand drives about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.