NEW YORK: After all the hype, it appears that Black Friday is losing its lustre for retailers as the annual four-day Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza generated 11% less in sales value this year than last while 5% fewer people took part.

Early figures from the National Retail Federation, the industry trade body which surveyed 4,600 consumers on Friday and Saturday, indicated that 134m people had gone shopping and that spending in 2014 amounted to some $50.9bn, the lowest level in three years.

As the inquest began, however, it appeared that overall holiday sales would still be up on 2013 – by 4.1% – as many big retailers had simply started offering their holiday deals several days ahead of Black Friday itself.

"A strengthening economy that changes consumers' reliance on deep discounts, a highly competitive environment, early promotions and the ability to shop 24/7 online all contributed to the shift witnessed this weekend," said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay.

He described it as "an evolutionary change in holiday shopping by both consumers and retailers" and expected the trend would continue.

Neil Ashe, CEO of global e-commerce at Wal-Mart, told the Wall Street Journal that "historical definitions of Black Friday and Cyber Monday are evolving and we are just answering to what the consumer is demanding".

And with that in mind, the retailer was last night offering an "evening edition" of its Cyber Monday sale after it found that one fifth of shoppers don't start shopping online until they get home from work.

The NRF reported that online shopping accounted for 41.9% of spending over the four-day period, down from 44% last year, with the average amount spent here down 10% from a year ago to $159.55.

Pam Goodfellow, principal analyst at Prosper Insights & Analytics, which conducted the survey for the NRF, said consumers were the ultimate winners.

"Shoppers this year have made it clear that they no longer only value deep discounts on Thanksgiving and Black Friday," she said. "They want the entire package from beginning to end – free shipping, early promotions, convenient ways to use their mobile devices and, of course, hard-to-beat online deals."

That last option looks increasingly attractive if the alternative is queuing for hours prior to being swept up in a wave of retail carnage. Or as one online shopper put it: "I ain't going up there with all the crazy people."

Data sourced from NRF, Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff