"Now that I'm debt-free. I want to keep it that way," said Desiree Banks, who was at Best Buy in Macedonia, Ohio, with a stack of DVDS for $3.99 each.
Shoppers did their homework, researching deals on websites. Stores made planning easier by touting their bargains last week.
"Every year, we get more refined," said Deb Brown, 42, who was at the Bellevue Square Mall in Bellevue, Wash. She came from White Rock, British Columbia.
Many teens bucked the bargain-hunting trend, shopping full force — and paying full price — at high-end stores like Hollister and American Eagle Outfitters, according to mall officials. That suggests that parents, feeling more financially secure, are giving their children extra spending money, said Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research at Thomson Research.
A big worry is that some of the solid buying earlier in November could steal thunder from the rest of the season and leave a deeper lull between Thanksgiving weekend and the few days before Christmas.
Clearly, stores worked hard to draw shoppers in for Black Friday and earlier, with more deals and expanded hours that allowed people to get shopping soon after their Thanksgiving dinner.
A number of stores including Old Navy, Toys R Us and Sears opened on Thanksgiving Day. Toys R Us was counting on getting an extra boost by opening 24 hours straight, starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Many stores had trotted out the "Black Friday" label on sales as far back as October.
Best Buy Co. started its holiday TV ads 11 days earlier this year than last year. CEO Brian Dunn said customer counts were showing high-single-digit percentage increases Friday morning compared to last year. He said shoppers were throwing in items like Blu-ray players to go with early morning bargains that started at 5 a.m.
"Traffic was fast and furious. ... We started earlier and we have more TV (commercials). I think both of these things helped," Dunn said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Wal-Mart, which had most stores open around the clock, reported the top five selling electronic items included an Emerson 32-inch LCD HDTV for $198. Hot toys included $10 Barbies and $4 Zhu Zhu pets, which were last year's hot hit.
Thanksgiving weekend is huge for retailers. In recent years, Black Friday — called that because the surge of shoppers could take retailers into profitability, or "the black," for the year — has been the busiest shopping day of the year, according to data from ShopperTrak.
Black Friday is generally not as big for online retailers as Monday after Thanksgiving — known as Cyber Monday — but many were already off to a good start. By mid-afternoon Friday, eBags sales soared 69.5 percent compared with a year ago.
The retail blitz doesn't make or break the holiday season. In fact, shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, giving retailers some nail-biting moments waiting for sales the last few days before Christmas.
Last year, the Thanksgiving shopping weekend accounted for 12.3 percent of overall holiday revenue, according to ShopperTrak. Black Friday made up about half of that.
AP Business Writers Mae Anderson in New York; Emily Fredrix in Cleveland; Ashley Heher in Chicago; Sarah Skidmore in Portland, Ore.; Jessica Mintz in Bellevue, Wash., and Ellen Gibson in Columbia, Md.; contributed to this report.
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