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Black Friday Draws Crowds Of Holiday Shoppers

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Eager shoppers crowd a metro Old Navy to get the best deals of the season this Black Friday. Eager shoppers crowd a metro Old Navy to get the best deals of the season this Black Friday.

Staff and Wire Reports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The biggest shopping day of the year is officially underway. But shoppers started pouring into retailers to get those Black Friday deals as early as Thursday afternoon.

Bargain shoppers, braving rain or frigid weather, crowded the nation's stores in the wee hours of the night to get their hands on deals from TVs to toys on Black Friday.

Early signs pointed to a solid turnout for the traditional start to the holiday shopping season. In an encouraging sign for retailers and for the economy, more shoppers appeared to be buying for themselves than last year, when such indulgences were limited. Lengthened hours that pushed some store openings into Thanksgiving also appeared to pay off.

Toys R Us, which drew in shoppers with 50 percent discounts on such toys as Buzz Lightyear and Barbies, was counting on getting an extra boost by opening 24 hours straight, starting at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

Walmart averted the dangers of years past by keeping its doors open all night to head off potential stampedes. While there was a steady influx of shoppers, no one dashed through aisles or shoved. Instead, they lined up for tickets entitling them to heavily discounted TVs and computers and then camped out in cordoned-off aisles.

The fierce battle for shoppers' wallets promises savings for those willing and able to buy amid an economy that's still worrying many.

The good news is that retailers are heading into the season with some momentum after a solid start to November. Shoppers who can afford it are buying more nonessentials, like jewelry and luxury goods. That's helping to lift their spirits about the holiday season, which is expected to generate revenue gains modestly higher than a year ago.

Still, nearly 15 million are unemployed, and concerns about job security cloud consumer confidence. Spending may be picking up but has not returned to pre-recession levels.

Many stores pushed more exclusive deals online on Thursday in a bid to rope in shoppers before Black Friday. It apparently worked. According to IBM's Coremetrics, online sales soared 33 percent on the holiday compared with Thanksgiving 2009.

Consumers began shopping earlier in the day on Thursday compared with a year earlier. And the average order was $182.74, up from $159.81 on last year's Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving weekend is huge for retailers. In recent years, so-called Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year, according to data from research firm ShopperTrak. But it doesn't necessarily provide a complete forecast of holiday sales. In fact, shoppers seem to be procrastinating more every year, so the fate of the holiday season is increasingly down to the last few days before Christmas.

Retailers do study buying patterns for the weekend to discern shoppers' mindset. This year, that means taking the measure on their willingness to spend just a little bit more.

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.

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