December 20 or 21 is typically the last day holiday shoppers can order online for Christmas Eve delivery. Reports are already in from a variety of sources about Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber-Monday sales.

What happened on this make-or-break weekend for retailers? What about the rest of the holiday shopping season? And what does it all say about the economic climate for 2011?

Black Friday Brick-and-Mortar Sales Up Slightly

If you read all the Black Friday and Cyber-Monday wrap-ups, you might be surprised to learn that retail sales actually make up only 7 % of all U.S. retail spending. The emphasis in online reports is clearly, well, online sales.

The National Retail Federation reported that Black Friday sales at brick-and-mortar stores were up about 8 %, which says something good about consumer confidence. Total Black Friday shopping for the entire weekend hit $45 billion in sales, with the average consumer spending $365, up from last year’s average of $343, but not quite up to 2008 totals.

Small Business Saturday

American Express launched an initiative called Small Business Saturday this holiday season, promoting the idea of shopping at local retailers on the day following Black Friday. An article in Business News Daily noted that 27 percent of small retailers that accept American Express saw an increase in sales on the Saturday after Black Friday from 2009 sales. This is much higher than the overall increase in sales from 2009, so the initiative did, in fact, make a difference.

In addition to increased revenue, Small Business Saturday accomplished something even bigger for small business owners: awareness and buzz. The statistics are compelling, and this one probably says the most: According to the article, 1.2 million people “liked” Small Business Saturday on the Facebook fan page, while 100,000 small business owners downloaded promotional materials from the fan page.

Cyber-Monday Starts Early

The real winner in the Black Friday weekend race was the ecommerce retailers, who saw an increase of 15.9% in sales on Black Friday — two days before the biggest online shopping day of the year. Online shoppers also spent an average of $20 more per transaction from last year. Read the entire Black Friday/Cyber Monday report from Coremetrics here.

On Cyber Monday, consumers spent a total of $1 billion online; that’s compared to $650 million spent at brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday. Com score, a market research firm specializing in digital business, reported that consumers spent an average of $114 per transaction, up 12% from last year. It was the biggest Internet shopping day in history.

Credit Card Sales

In spite of all the incentives, bonus points, and interest-free financing, many shoppers kept their credit cards in their pockets this year. A survey from America’s Research Group found that only 17 percent of Black Friday shoppers made purchases with credit cards, down from more than 30 percent last year.

However, since this information was gleaned from a survey, and not a tally of actual sales, the number of credit card shoppers may actually be slightly higher. With online sales up by so much, many of these people may have been using credit cards to pay for their online purchases, albeit with cash to cover the sales.

In my own surveys, people said they were using cash but, when prompted, admitted they were paying with a credit card for the rewards, but had the cash in the bank to cover it. “Living within your means,” (or at least, looking like you are) is “in” this holiday season, that’s for sure.

That doesn’t mean that careful credit card spending doesn’t pay off! By strategically shopping online through credit card rewards portals or in stores where you earn bonus rewards, and paying off your cards before you incur any finance charges, you can get a little extra cash to stretch your holiday budget further.

Now go redeem your rewards and get shopping — there’s not much time left!