U.S. shoppers searched for deals on high-definition televisions and popular toys on Friday, as retailers hoped that "Black Friday" would kick off the best holiday shopping season in three years.
While some stores were open on Thursday and many retailers have offered "Black Friday" deals for weeks, shoppers still lined up late Thursday and early Friday for the annual day-after-Thanksgiving bargain hunt.
Black Friday is a term co-opted by retailers to refer to the time of year when their business moves into the black, or turns a profit. This year, the event will be about keeping sales momentum that has picked up modestly this year as the economy recovers.
Some shoppers were disappointed in the offers they saw, even as they waited in line for hours before they could get in the door.
"I'm looking at the TV and it says save $70 and I'm like, come on, you've got to be kidding," said Sanjay Patil, as he waited outside a Best Buy in Princeton, New Jersey, along with about 50 other bargain hunters before midnight, even though the electronics retailer said stores open at 5 a.m.
"If it's Black Friday, it has to be 100 or 120 bucks savings minimum."
Others were anticipating the bargains they hoped to get. Nandini Ramkissoon, 19, staked out a spot near the stacks of $69 Blu-ray Disc players and $198 HDTVs set to go on sale at 5 a.m. inside a Wal-Mart in Secaucus, N.J.
"Wal-Mart is pretty good because they're letting their customers inside before time, and it's really cool," Ramkissoon said.
She and her parents arrived at 7 p.m. on Thursday, 10 hours early, to make sure they could get the TV they wanted.
Wal-Mart opened many of its U.S. discount stores on Thanksgiving Day and the doors stayed open overnight, a tactic it adopted after an employee was trampled to death two years ago on "Black Friday."
Ready to Shop
Consumers, whose spending accounts for about 70 percent of the U.S. economy, appear to be in the mood to shop. On Wednesday, the government reported a 0.3 percent increase in personal spending in October, compared with the previous month.
Other signs that the economy might be gaining steam include a two year-low in a closely watched measure of jobless benefits.
The National Retail Federation forecast that as many as 138 million people would go to stores this weekend. The industry trade group also forecast a 2.3 percent increase in sales during November and December, up from a 0.4 percent increase a year earlier. Other forecasts call for even greater increases.
Many retail stocks have rallied on investor hopes that the holiday season will be even better than expected. The Standard & Poor's retailing index rose 2.6 percent on Wednesday to its highest close in 3-1/2 years.
But that could also leave stocks vulnerable to a sell-off if sales and profits do not meet those heightened expectations, said Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi.
"We're set up for a fall," Sozzi said. "We'll need strong earnings beats in the fourth quarter."
Despite the hooplah over Black Friday, there are still four more weeks until Christmas, and with consumers showing a tendency to do much of their shopping at the last minute before a holiday or event, analysts say that Black Friday is not a strong predictor for the season as a whole.
"Black Friday is different from the overall holiday season. Black Friday is an event," James Russo, vice president at market and consumer information monitor The Nielsen Co.
Some shoppers will put in a hard day's work on Black Friday.
After Wal-Mart, Ramkissoon said her family plans to go to Sears and other stores most of the day before returning home to Brooklyn.
"It's like a whole day with no sleep," she said.