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Early-morning crowds were light on Black Friday, the start of the US holiday shopping season, as more people picked up deals online and the traditional rush was split by stores opening the night before.
The period between the US Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas can make or a break a retailer, accounting for as much as 40 per cent of total revenue for the year. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally when retailers offer "doorbuster" deals attracting frenzied bargain hunters.
There was little sign of frenzy early on Friday.
About 250 people line up patiently at a Target Corp store in Manhattan before it opened at 6 a.m. (1100 GMT).
Tricia Welch, 36, a customer service executive at a bank, stood in line for about an hour before getting into the store.
"There are definitely more discounts available through the year now than say four to five years ago ... we only buy electronics or appliances on Black Friday."
Miguel Flores, 43, an overnight security guard, visited the store after his shift ended.
"I mostly shop online but decided to drop in because I haven't been to a store in a long time," Flores said. "I bought some video games for my nephew a few days ago. The deals were pretty good then, too. In fact I was just looking at some of them today and the deals are similar."
Enticing shoppers with Black Friday deals is especially important for brick-and-mortar retailers given the continued switch to online shopping, led by Amazon.com Inc , which has forced chains such as Toys R Us, apparel retailers True Religion, The Limited, Rue 21 and off-price retailer Payless Shoe Source to file for bankruptcy this year.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Target Corp, Macy's Inc, J. C. Penney and other major retailers opened their stores on Thursday evening and most have been offering extended holiday deals online starting as early as October instead of limiting them to one day.
Some started offering in-store deals earlier this week to whet shoppers' appetites.
NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, was crowded but not chaotic. Shoppers came for deals with nothing specific in mind. Those who came enjoyed the experience of trying on clothes rather than shopping online.
"It looks a little slower this year," Build-A-Bear employee Marissa Trujillo said.
"Black Friday isn't what it used to be because stores are extending their sales into the weekend and you can shop online," said Unmesh Patel, 30, a project manager. "I also come for the rush even though it lessens every year."
A Macy's employee at the mall said it was less busy on Friday because the store had been open, and packed, on Thursday.
US shoppers had spent more than $1.52 billion online by Thanksgiving evening, a 16.8 per cent year-over-year increase in online spending, by 5 p.m. (2200 GMT) on Thanksgiving, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracked 80 per cent of online transactions at the top 100 US retailers.
"They're all online," said Sarah Jones, 42, an employee at Roosevelt Field Mall in Long Island. "Right now they're at toy stores and electronic stores. They'll trickle in a little later and we'll be waiting. I've worked in retail my whole life, trust me."
Shares of Macy's were up 2.5 per cent in thin premarket trading, while Wal-Mart and Target were little changed. Amazon.com was up 0.8 per cent.