* 60 mln plan to shop, another 78 mln might join in
* Up to 4 mln more shoppers expected over three days
* Projected increase smaller than last year
By Jon Lentz
NEW YORK, Nov 18 (Reuters) - As many as 138 million U.S. shoppers could be hunting for Black Friday bargains during the three days after Thanksgiving, according to a retail trade group survey released on Thursday.
Nearly 60 million Americans plan to hit the stores, while an additional 78 million might join the crowds of shoppers, the National Retail Federation said.
The total number of possible shoppers is 4 million more than forecast last year, when the NRF forecast 134 million Americans would be out shopping over the three-day weekend.
The group does a follow-up survey to ascertain how many of those consumers actually did shop over the weekend, but it includes shoppers on Thanksgiving day.
Black Friday, which falls on Nov. 26, is a key date for retailers, representing the traditional post-Thanksgiving kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
The higher turnout expected for the Black Friday weekend supports an earlier NRF forecast of a 2.3 percent increase in sales in November and December, compared with a 0.4 percent increase in 2009.
In 2008, during the worst financial crisis in decades, sales fell by 3.9 percent.
The widely-expected uptick in shopping this year is welcomed by retailers, but they remain wary, leaving little to chance in their fight for holiday sales. Knowing consumers are still hesitant to spend and are looking to save money, many are focused on increasing sales by poaching customers from their rivals. [ID:nN16143974]
Amid high unemployment and a tepid economic recovery, more U.S. consumers are paring back their spending for the holiday season, according to a survey from consumer research firm America’s Research Group. [ID:nN17148596]
This year’s higher forecast for Black Friday shoppers is smaller than the change from 2008 to 2009, when an additional 6 million shoppers were expected. (Reporting by Jon Lentz; editing by Andre Grenon)