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Black Friday results show cautious shopping toward Cyber Monday

Black Friday sales were vigorous, retailers report. But shoppers are cautious as the US economy struggles to recover, likely to buy what they need and not just what they want.

By Staff writer / November 28, 2009

Shoppers look at computers in an Apple Store on Friday. The National Retail Federation predicts that holiday sails will be down for the second year in a row.

Russel Daniels/AP

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Black Friday’s shopping spree sent consumers home with cart-loads of bargains -- everything from flat-screen TVs to diamond-studded earrings to Zhu Zhu pets. (The battery-operated toy hamster is particularly popular).

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While some Americans may have been observing the anti-consumerist event known as “Buy Nothing Day” -- it’s hard to track that trend among people who stay home with families or go for a nice, vigorous postprandial hike rather than exercise their credit cards -- initial indications are that all the pre-Thanksgiving hype and hoopla paid off for retailers this year.

"There were bargain-hungry shoppers out there, and retailers really did pull out all the stops for people," National Retail Federation spokesperson Kathy Grannis told Time.

For one thing, big-box stores are opening earlier and earlier -- in some cases, midnight rather than the traditional 6 a.m. Walmart stores were open on Thanksgiving, and some of the big chains were advertising online specials before that on limited numbers of attractive items as a way of enticing early shoppers.

Initial indications show the numbers up over last year, at least somewhat. The economy is a factor. Some of the shock from last year’s financial crisis may have worn off a bit. Also, with high unemployment and underemployment a persistent problem, people are especially eager to look for discounted prices on those things they think they need and can afford.

More than 5,000 people were at Macy's Herald Square store in New York early Friday, slightly more than last year, the Associated Press reports. “Among the most popular items were Tommy Hilfiger $99 bomber jackets, marked down from $450,” according to the AP.

Still, many consumers -- though they joined the predawn lines looking for good deals on netbook computers and GPS devices -- are very aware of an economy that can feel personally precarious.