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Retailers have a robust start to holiday season

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 25, 2011 file photo, customers shop at a Best Buy store in Burbank, Calif. The official kickoff to the holiday shopping season underscored a big challenge to retailers: shoppers will only come out when they believe they're getting a big discount. Stores' own version of the Super Bowl got off to a robust start, helped by early store openings and heavy price cutting. But many analysts worry that the heavy marketing hype that pulled in the crowds will steal some thunder from the rest of the season. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

More Americans hunted for bargains over the weekend than ever before as retailers lured them online and into stores with big discounts and an earlier-than-usual start to the holiday shopping season.

Next up is Cyber Monday, when many online retailers run promotions for the first business day of the week following Thanksgiving.

A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thanksgiving Day, up from 212 million last year, according to early estimates by the National Retail Federation released on Sunday. Americans spent more, too: The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 over the weekend, up from $365.34 a year ago.

Research firm comScore reported on Sunday that e-commerce spending jumped 26 percent on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, compared with the same day a year ago. ComScore reports $816 million in online sales for the day.

But the question remains whether retailers will be able to hold shoppers’ attention throughout the remainder of the season, which can account for 25 to 40 percent of a merchant’s annual revenue.

A fuller picture on spending will come Thursday when major retailers report their November sales figures. But for now, experts agree that retailers will likely have to continue to discount to get shoppers to spend.

“The big question is: How do you close the season?” says Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner at A. T. Kearney’s retail practice. “This is a very promotional driven shopper.”

Indeed, the earlier hours on Black Friday seemed to be what drew many shoppers in over the weekend, particularly the younger crowd.

According to the National Retail Federation, 24 percent of Black Friday shoppers were at stores at midnight. That’s up from 9.5 percent the year before when only a few stores were open during that time. Of those shopping at midnight, 37 percent were in the 18-to-34 age group.