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It is the consumer that drives the economy. The holiday season is where anywhere from 25-40% of all sales are made. The data used in this post is aggregated from three research reports from: MasterCard, Discover Card and an online survey conducted by General Growth Properties, Inc.

Today, the day after Thanksgiving, is known as “Black Friday.” This is the day that retailers historically would hit the profit mark (Being in the black means being profitable). If you think it means that you should stay home because there will be too many shoppers out that day, it actually ranks as the sixth busiest day. Black Friday used to be synonymous with the official launch of the holiday shopping season. Personally, I have already seen Santa Claus on street corners here in New York starting the day after Halloween. This Black Friday many stores, including Wal-Mart (WMT), KB Toys and J.C. Penney (JCP), are opening their doors at 5 a.m. As we get count down to 12/25, we will begin to see stores open until midnight!

The busiest day in 2005 was December 23 and MasterCard (MA) said its transaction data predicts 12/23 will be the busiest shopping day again this year. I remember in years past, 12/24 as the busiest day, but this year it falls on a Sunday. In the GGP study, 56% claim they will start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. Will this work out to be true or false, given that most people procrastinate? The retail revenue numbers will verify or nullify this claim.

The web is the fasting growing shopping mall in the world and is not to be left out of these stats. The mainstream media has come up with a catchy phrase for the web too. It is the Monday after Thanksgiving, known as “Cyber Monday.” This is also a self-perpetuating myth as it is the ninth most active online shopping day in terms of transactions processed. Most people do their holiday shopping just before Christmas. The biggest action on the web last year was 12/5, somewhat driven by cheap shipping deadlines.

This year, consumers plan to spend most of their holiday budget on clothing and accessories, and on gift cards (see my 11/22 post) and gift certificates. More will be spent than on toys, games and sporting goods.

Where they shop:

84% department stores
41% electronics stores
32% at warehouse membership clubs
31% at specialty retail stores
66% at the Mall

How they pay:

35% debit cards
33% credit cards
12% cash
6% checks

What they will purchase (note the difference to the store statistics)

Electronics 25%
Apparel 23%
Jewelry 5%

How much they will spend:

55% up to $500
25% $500 to $1,000

On average, consumers expect to spend $879 on holiday gifts this year, compared with approximately $632 in 2005.

I saved my favorite stat for last. In America, 55% surveyed want cash or gift cards as a holiday present.

Editor's note: stocks providing coverage of the retail sector include (but are not limited to) Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), J.C. Penney (JCP), Federated Department Stores (FD), as well as the Retail HOLDRS ETF (RTH).

Source: Retail By the Numbers