The pre-dawn sales frenzy is over — and now the tally begins.
Steep discounts, enticing rebates and expanded hours drew hordes to the nation's retailing meccas Friday, and merchants saw hopeful signs that consumer spending will be lively for the holidays.
More so than during last year's post-Thanksgiving rush, people jammed stores early, with more than a few testy shoppers scuffling in a rush to grab coveted, limited-quantity bargains.
Several major retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Macy's, as well as mall operator Taubman Centers Inc., estimated they drew bigger crowds for the official holiday season launch compared with last year.
Lena Michaud, spokeswoman at Target Corp. (TGT), which had a strong holiday season a year ago, said traffic was at least as heavy.
Consumer electronics, including MP3 players, laptop computers, and even pricey flat-screen TVs, were the main attraction, but apparel also fared well, helped by the arrival of frigid weather in many parts of the country, according to Marshal Cohen, senior industry analyst at NPD Group Inc., a market research firm.
No single standout was reported among toys, and popular items included electronics-laced items such as Hasbro Inc.'s Idog (HAS), Fisher-Price's Dora the Explorer's Talking Kitchen, and Zizzle Inc.'s iZ, according to John Barbour, president of Toys "R" Us' (TOY) U.S. division, who reported "brisk" business.
"This is the most promotional Black Friday we have seen," said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Retail Federation.
The bargains were so good at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which offered better deals than last year, that things got out of hand.
In Cascade Township, east of Grand Rapids, Mich., a woman fell as dozens of people rushed into a store for the 5 a.m. opening. Several stepped on her, and a few became entangled as a man pushed them to the ground to keep them away.
When the rush ended, the woman and a 13-year-old girl suffered minor injuries.
Tempers flared at a Wal-Mart in Orlando, Fla., where a man allegedly cut in line to buy a bargain notebook computer and was wrestled to the ground, according to a video shown by an ABC affiliate, WFTV-TV.
Discounted notebooks, particularly the $378 HP Pavilion notebooks, were not the only attractions at Wal-Mart, which also sold out of its $997 42-inch plasma TVs and 15-inch LCD TVs, priced at $178, in many stores, according to Gail Lavielle, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. But apparel and toys also did well, she said.
"We were pleased. We thought people did come to us first," said Lavielle.
Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive of Federated Department Stores Inc., (FD) which operates Macy's, estimated the flagship Herald Square store attracted about 1,000 people for the 6 a.m. opening. "I have also seen a lot of bags," he said. Hot items included cashmere sweaters, down comforters and scarves, he said.
"Today, things look really good. But these next five weeks are really critical," Lundgren added. "You have to wait and see how it unfolds."
At a Best Buy Co. (BBY) store at CambridgeSide Galleria, in Cambridge, Mass., the line of about 400 shoppers snaked through the indoor mall for the 5 a.m. store opening.
"The prices are much better than last year," said Shirley Xie, 30, who was with Jen Lin, 35, both from Medford, Mass. The married couple said they were enticed by deals such as a Toshiba Corp. laptop computer with 15-inch screen that was $379.99 after a $370 instant rebate. Xie said a comparable laptop she bought last year as a gift cost about $600.
The couple also bought a SanDisk Corp. MP3 player for $39.99 after a $60 instant rebate available until noon.
At a Wal-Mart store in Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, the biggest crowds for the 5 a.m. opening were for portable DVD players, priced at $79.86; 20-inch TVs, priced at $89; and the Garth Brooks limited-edition, six-disc box set, priced at $25.
"It's a little rough but heh," said Lorenzo DeMassino, 31, who bought Game Boy items at the store.
Meanwhile, about 100 people lined up for the 6. a.m. opening in freezing weather outside the Super Target in Apex, N.C., about 10 miles south of Raleigh.
Meredith Carter, 29, from Apex, took the first spot in line when she arrived around 4:50 a.m., about 10 minutes after the veteran Black Friday shopper woke up.
By 6:05 a.m., she was buying one of two items on her list: a Kodak Easy Share digital camera for $89.99, saving about 50 percent. She was then off to find a George Foreman grill, also at half-price.
"I plan to get what I want and go home," she said.
Retailers' spirits have improved in recent weeks as gasoline prices have fallen. In fact, on Tuesday National Retail Federation upgraded its holiday growth forecast to 6 percent from the 5 percent it announced in September.
Many shoppers are cautious, though. While gasoline prices have fallen, they are still high, and this winter shoppers will face higher heating bills.
While the day after Thanksgiving officially starts the holiday shopping season, it is no longer the busiest shopping day. Last year, it was Saturday, Dec. 18, a week before Christmas, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Still, Black Friday sets an important tone for the rest of the season. What shoppers find in terms of deals and service "influences where they will shop for the rest of the season," said Federated's Lundgren.