US retailers are offering deep discounts, entertainment and free gifts to lure bargain hunters to Black Friday sales, the traditional start of the holiday retail season, but some shoppers say they are just browsing and will save their cash for online purchases.
The sharp rise in online sales has brightened the overall outlook for traditional retailers that have expanded beyond brick-and-mortar outlets, sending their shares up in day-after-Thanksgiving trading.
There was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy customary of previous Black Fridays, despite many shops getting creative with gimmicks and big discounts to draw in customers. Still, some fights broke out - perhaps inevitably.
No actual data for Friday's brick-and-mortar business was immediately available.
Despite anecdotal evidence - like less full carparks and shoppers leaving empty handed - US consumers are still expected to spend more overall this holiday season than last, analysts and industry executives said.
Black Friday online sales totalled at least US$3.54 billion by 8pm (local time) on Friday, up 15.6 percent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions at the largest 100 US web retailers. On Thanksgiving Day, US shoppers spent more than US$2.87 billion online.
Adobe projects internet sales will still reach a record US$5 billion by the end of the night, with online retailers forecast to rake in an additional US$6.6 billion on Cyber Monday.
Many chains struggled to keep up, with brief online outages experienced by Lowe's, H&M and the Gap, among others, according to website performance monitors.
Macy's Inc customers had problems with the retailer's credit card processing system with the hiccup dragging shares down by 0.6 percent.
Other major retailers generally traded higher on Wall Street. J.C. Penney climbed 0.6 percent and Wal-Mart Stores Inc edged upward. Amazon.com Inc closed up 2.6 percent at a record high.
Target Corp's share fell 2.8 percent, with analysts noting it closed overnight while many stayed open.