NEW YORK (AP) – The nation’s retailers had a strong start to the holiday shopping season, according to results announced Saturday by a national research group that tracks sales at mall-based stores. One big exception was Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which said it expects to report same-store sales in November below its already lackluster forecast.

According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks total sales at more than 45,000 mall-based retail outlets, total sales rose 6 percent to $8.96 billion on Friday, the start of the holiday shopping season, compared to the same day a year ago.

“Although we anticipated a solid consumer turnout for Black Friday, this data shows an even larger increase than expected as consumers proved they were willing to spend,” said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, in a statement.

Wal-Mart, however, estimated it will post a 0.1 percent decline in same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year, in November. That’s slightly below its original projections for flat sales for the month, compared to the year-ago period. The results cover the four-week period that ended through Friday. Same-store sales are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.

J.C. Penney Co. said in a separate statement released Saturday that the holiday shopping season was “off to a good start.”

“We have seen brisk traffic in our stores, and our ‘redbox gifts’ selection is being well-received by customers,” Penney said, referring to its holiday must-have items. It said that home entertainment, fashion jewelry, children’s apparel, housewares, holiday decorations and women’s shoes were among the most popular items Friday.

Wal-Mart and other major retailers are expected to report final same-store results for November on Thursday.

Wal-Mart’s disappointing performance in November is the latest in a string of anemic sales gains for the discount store, which is struggling to expand its appeal to higher-income shoppers. According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, Wal-Mart has averaged a meager 2.4 percent gain in same-store sales for the February-October period. That compares with a same-store sales 4.8 percent gain for discount rival Target Corp. Penney has averaged a 4.5 percent gain in same-store sales for the February-October period.

Wal-Mart, which had downplayed its emphasis on discounting, or what it calls rollbacks, stepped up its campaign in mid-October, with price reductions on over 100 toys. The move was followed by price cuts on consumer electronics and small appliances earlier this month.

While Black Friday – so named because it was traditionally when the surge of shopping made stores profitable – starts holiday shopping, it is not considered a bellwether for the season. However, merchants see Black Friday as setting an important tone to the overall season: what consumers see that day influences where they will shop for the rest of the year.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.