They left home without it.
Black Friday shoppers shunned credit cards at the start of the holiday season this past weekend, according to a survey released on Tuesday, adding a cautionary note to expectations for U.S. retail sales over the next few weeks.
And this year's Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday when retailers offer deep discounts and early-bird specials, attracted the greatest percentage of U.S. households to date, showing that consumers were willing to shop before dawn for significant savings.
According to the survey by America's Research Group and UBS, 16.3 per cent of consumers polled said they used credit cards, down from 30.9 per cent last year, and the lowest percentage ever seen by the group's chairman, Britt Beemer, who has tracked holiday shopping for more than two decades.
This could have repercussions for credit card processing networks like Visa Inc., American Express Co. and MasterCard Inc., which stand to benefit from a rebound in spending this holiday season.
America's Research Group said it expected total holiday sales to range from down 1 per cent to up 1 per cent, based on data showing that consumers spend $41 (U.S.) on average per transaction when using cash, check or debit cards, compared with $87 on average when using credit.
That is far weaker than the 2.3 per cent holiday sales rise forecast by the National Retail Federation. Other industry predictions top 3 per cent.
The holiday shopping season is the biggest retail event of the year, helping to shore up profits for store chains from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to Macy's Inc. to Tiffany & Co.
Although higher-income consumers are starting to spend again, Mr. Beemer said they would not be able to counter the caution pervading the wider population because of unemployment and slow economic recovery.
"There's no doubt that luxury is going to do better this year than last year," Mr. Beemer said in an interview. "But ... if the number of consumers using credit cards is half of what it was a year ago, the luxury customer cannot make up for that 50 per cent decline."
The Standard & Poor's Retail Index rose 0.4 per cent on Tuesday, outpacing slight declines for the wider stock market. The index hit a 3 1/2 year high ahead of Black Friday, and some analysts have said that retail stocks have already factored in a small increase in holiday sales.
Between 46 and 47 per cent of U.S. households shopped on Black Friday this year, the survey found, marking a new record for Mr. Beemer and rising from roughly 37 per cent last year.
Of the people who shopped, nearly 62 per cent made purchases only on Black Friday, topping a prior record of 56 per cent.
More than 14 per cent of shoppers said they finished 90 per cent or more of their shopping during the weekend, compared with 10.5 per cent last year.
Discount stores and electronics retailers were the day's winners, with the survey finding that those segments actually gained prominence.
About 46 per cent of Friday shoppers said they spent the most money in discount stores, an 11-year high and up from last year. About 15 per cent of Friday shoppers said they spent the most at electronics stores, such as Best Buy Co. Inc., a five-year high and up from only 10 per cent last year.
The survey polled 1,000 consumers from Friday through Sunday and has an error factor of plus or minus 3.8 per cent.
Its findings differ from those of the NRF, which showed that discounters lost ground this year to clothing and department stores as consumers were a little more relaxed about spending.