Early indications show the holiday shopping season in the United States is off to a promising start. The National Retail Federation says the number of Americans who visited stores and websites during the so called "Black Friday" holiday weekend was up significantly from last year. Retailers are hoping the online equivalent, called Cyber Monday, turns out to be just as successful - as the crucial holiday shopping season gets underway.
The holiday shopping season shifted into high gear over the American holiday weekend with over 200 million shoppers taking advantage of deep discounts and extended shopping hours. The National Retail Federation says that is nine percent higher than last year. Investment analyst Lori Wachs says not only were there more shoppers, they also spent more money.
"The consumer is starting to feel better," she said. "They're spending on discretionary items such as jewelry and even on themselves."
Black Friday is considered a turning point for retailers because it marks the day of the year when their stores start moving into the black - the common term for making a profit.
Terry Lundgren, the chief executive at Macy's department store, says the strong showing this year is vital to a healthy economy.
"Retail and restaurants represent one in five jobs in America," he said. "So if we do well, we grow, then we're going to be the ones that will start to lead us into a recovery and out of the difficulty that we've had in terms of job hiring, unemployment and all of those challenging issues that relate to that."
The retail federation says American shoppers spent an average $365 over the holiday weekend - about $20 more than they did last year.
That bodes well for Cyber Monday, when retailers expect more than 100 million shoppers will scour the Internet looking for deals.
Online sales are expected to top last year's numbers by 30 percent.
Steve Yankovich, who heads eBay's mobile division, says today's technology allows consumers to shop from home, at work or even by phone.
"We walk around with a [shopping] mall in our hand," he said. "I've got prices in my hand, I've got options in my hand as I'm in a particular retailer's brick and mortar store, and that's different.'
Consumer spending is the biggest driver of the U.S. economy, accounting for about 70 percent of economic activity.
But signs that American shoppers are spending more did little to bolster investor confidence - as continued worries about the European debt crisis put a damper on stock prices.