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Early indications suggest that this holiday shopping season could be the best we've seen in years, as more people spent money this holiday weekend and they spent more of it. A survey by the National Retail Federation estimates that the number of people who went shopping, either in a store or online, rose by more than eight million over last year, to 139.4 million shoppers. Even more encouraging is that the average shopper spent $423, compared to $398 in 2011. NRF says that overall sales increased 12.8 percent compared to last year's four-day weekend.

While part of the increased is explained by the rise of early shopping on Thursday evening, online shopping delivered the biggest boost with Black Friday sales topping $1 billion for the first time ever, as many online retailers weren't waiting for "Cyber Monday" to post their big deals. Shoppers are expected to spend another billion dollars online today as they return to work and start buying from their desks. While shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving was not quite as frantic as it has been in years past, the hope is that by spreading out the deals over the entire season, every day can be as strong as Black Friday.

Obviously, the numbers are mostly estimates and it's still very early in the season, but the news is encouraging for an American economy desperately seeking a strong finish to the year. Consumer confidence surveys have been steadily on the rise over the least year, reaching levels not seen since before the financial crisis of 2008, despite complaints about high unemployment and the looming specter of the "fiscal cliff." However, if the pattern from this weekend holds it could mean that the U.S. economy is finally back on track as average Americans are willing and able to spend money again. Also, with Thanksgiving falling on its earliest possible date this year, that means the longest possible holiday shopping season, giving retailers hope that more records are likely to fall before Christmas Day.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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