8 Holiday Shopping Winners and Losers

New retail trends mean that electronics and comparison sites are in, while Black Friday is out.

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Procrastinators are likely to fill stores this weekend.

Shoppers have already launched themselves with gusto into the holiday season, driving up early sales figures and taking advantage of Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. This year, they started buying gifts earlier than ever (with some checking off their lists back in October) and focused on Thanksgiving deals and weekend sales, along with the more traditional Friday and Monday discounts. Here’s who benefited—and who lost out—as a result of those shifts:

Winners:

1. The economy. The number of Americans who decided to go shopping increased on both Thanksgiving (up by 21 percent, to 35 million Americans) as well as Black Friday (up 3.5 percent, to 89 million shoppers), according to the National Retail Federation. The average shopper spent $423 over the weekend, a 6.3 percent increase over last year, for a total of $59.1 billion, NRF reports. For an economy that depends so heavily on consumer spending, that’s good news.

[Read: Why Holiday Shoppers Are Starting Early This Year.]

2. Comparison sites. Consumers might want to spend, but they also want to be smart. That’s why they’re increasingly turning to their mobile phones to browse comparison websites and use apps while they shop. NRF reports that the number of shoppers using mobile devices on Cyber Monday increased by 14.4 percent this year, to 20.4 million Americans. Many shoppers use their phones to compare prices while inside stores, to make sure they’re getting the best deal. Coupon site BradsDeals.com reports that 43 percent of traffic to its Black Friday site, BlackFriday2012.com, came from mobile devices, up from 17 percent last year.

3. Wal-Mart. The big-box store opened its doors at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, much to the chagrin of many of its employees. It attracted shoppers with deals customized to different locations, and also offered tablets for under $100 and half-priced portable televisions on its website. Those discounts paid off: BradsDeals.com reports that more people visited the retailer than visited Target, Best Buy, Toys ‘R Us, Kohl’s, and Amazon combined.

4. Electronics. Big-ticket electronics are often popular over Black Friday weekend, and this year was no exception. The comparison website PriceGrabber.com reports that the most popular products over the weekend include a Google Wi-Fi Tablet, a Lenovo laptop, an Insignia HDTV, and an Xbox console.

[Read: How to Improve Your Finances at Every Age.]

Losers:

1. Black Friday itself. This year, the traditional mega-shopping day was overshadowed by Thanksgiving Day sales as well as discounts that began even earlier. Wal-Mart, Sears, Toys 'R Us, and Target all opened their doors on Thanksgiving. BradsDeals.com reports that two-thirds of shoppers began their “Black Friday” shopping a day early, on Thursday, this year. The coupon site RetailMeNot.com calls the so-called Christmas creep “OctoNovemCember,” and the consultancy Accenture says the importance of Black Friday has been “diluted.”

2. Online stores that weren’t prepared. A recent survey by the Adcom Group found that 6 in 10 online shoppers said they ran into trouble while making online purchases, and 3 in 4 failed to complete their purchase as a result. When shoppers turned to the retailer for help by calling customer service, they ran into long hold times and dropped calls. That kind of frustration means lost time for shoppers, and lost sales for retailers.

[Read: How to Stay Safe While Shopping Online.]

3. Employers. When online sales are more compelling than work deadlines, employees often spend part of their workday shopping. The NRF survey found that 16 million Americans use their work computers to take advantage of Cyber Monday deals.

4. Scam victims. The uptick in online shoppers, especially those who aren’t used to clicking to make purchases, also means an increase in scam victims. Hackers are on the prowl for unsuspecting shoppers who are willing to click on links that lead to scam sites instead of legitimate retailers. They often post malicious links through social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter. Shoppers should be wary of deals that appear too good to be true or hyperlinks that direct them to unfamiliar websites.