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Best Buy a winner in holiday sales weekend

Best Buy sees turnaround from disappointing 2010 Black Friday sales by opening at midnight, focusing on low TV prices. Beyond Best Buy, Macy's and Walmart also score well in holiday sales weekend.

By Dhanya SkariachanReuters / November 28, 2011

In this file photo from Friday, shoppers enter a Best Buy store after a midnight opening in Brentwood, Tenn. The electronics retailer rebounded from a disappointing Black Friday last year by opening early and emphasizing low-cost TVs.

Mark Humphrey/AP/File

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NEW YORK

U.S. retailers racked up a record $52.4 billion in sales over the Thanksgiving weekend, a 16.4 percent jump from a year ago, as early hours and attractive promotions brought out more shoppers, an industry trade group said on Sunday.

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Among the early winners after the traditional start of the holiday shopping season was Best Buy Co Inc, a reversal from 2010 when the electronics retailer's erroneous bet on 3D televisions led to a disappointing season.

Best Buy drew in shoppers by being one of the companies that opened its stores at midnight Thanksgiving night, and unlike in 2010, it focused more on having lower prices for big TVs and other popular items.

"Last year, they weren't as responsive with their pricing as they needed to be. We are seeing a different set of behaviors from them this time around," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Clover Investment Advisors.

Overall, a record 226 million shoppers visited stores or online shopping sites from Thursday through Sunday, up from 212 million last year, according to a survey from retail industry trade group the National Retail Federation. The survey was conducted by online research firm BIGresearch..

The number of shoppers and the amount of spending surprised analysts who had expected sales to be tempered by a 9 percent unemployment rate, high costs for gasoline and concerns about fiscal uncertainty in Europe.

But it is not at all certain that retailers will be able to keep the momentum going for the rest of the season.

"One swallow does not a holiday season make. After the deepest recession in decades, the solid Black Friday weekend is welcome news, but we're only in the second quarter of a long playoff game," said Craig Johnson, president of consulting firm Customer Growth Partners.

The holiday shopping season that traditionally kicks off on Black Friday -- the biggest day of the year for retailers -- is closely watched by investors as consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

The National Retail Federation forecast a 2.8 percent increase in sales for the November-to-December holiday season, down from the 5.2 percent increase in the same period last year.

Many retailers opened at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving, pulling in younger people who were willing to stay up late for deals on electronics and toys instead of getting up before dawn on Friday.

"Consumers have finite cash. If you can be the retailer who gets that cash first, you are likely to be more successful in the holiday selling season," Creatura said.

MACY'S, WAL-MART SCORE

Aside from Best Buy, analysts and investors also named Macy's Inc and Wal-Mart Stores Inc among those that were strong starters.