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Note from the editor

Black Friday marks the start of the shopping season, as retailers and analysts watch to see how trends and early indicators play out in the weeks between the sales kick-off and the holidays themselves. 

The complete reckoning for the shopping period each year isn't known until there is a full tally of in-store sales figures. Last year, holiday retail sales grew 5.1% to more than $850 billion, the strongest in six years, fueled especially by apparel and home improvement sales, according to a Mastercard SpendingPulse report emailed to Retail Dive. 

Though a smaller piece of the pie, online shopping grew even more year over year — by 19.1% in 2018, according to the report, which tracks spending across payment types. Other retail segments had more meager results. Department store sales fell 1.3% from 2017, a decline that follows two years with growth of less than 2%, according to the report — although the sector's digital sales rose 10.2%. Additionally, electronics and appliance sales fell 0.7%. The findings are based on aggregate sales activity across the U.S. in the Mastercard payments network, plus survey-based estimates for other forms, including cash and check.

Sales from Black Friday are closely watched by retailers to see if they can breathe easy or if they need to shift course during the remaining holiday weeks, noted Sucharita Kodali, VP, principal analyst at Forrester Research after last year's all-important sales weekend. So much of a retailer's volume for the season is driven during this time period, Kodali pointed out. 

At the very end of the holiday rush last year, there was chatter regarding a drop in retail stock and investors' lack of confidence in the industry. That, combined with a government shutdown, started a low murmur of concern about the economy.

However, at the time, some analysts pointed to the holiday sales spike as a catalyst that would push retailers into a new year, which drove some optimism. Whether 2019 in its entirety will prove to be the success they predicted remains to be seen. But the level of optimism Black Friday and holiday results drove is a testament to the make or break power of the season. 

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