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Black Friday liveblog: Online deals or brick-and-mortar sales?

Sales tax may be hurting Amazon's bottom line, but overseas, online sales have been booming on similar shopping holidays.

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It's hard to say whether so much traffic on one of the busiest days of the shopping season means a strong holiday season in general. 

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"We would warn against reading too much into the performance of retail sales on Black Friday as there is little evidence that it will set the tone for sales during the whole holiday season," writes Paul Dales senior US economist for Toronto-based Capital Economics, in a recent analysis. In fact, a look at Black Friday sales going back to 1992 suggests that the stronger Black Friday sales are, the weaker holiday retail sales will be.

Of course, it's way too early to tell at this point how strong Black Friday sales will be, let alone sales for the holiday season. The forecasts suggest good, but not great, holiday sales for merchants. The National Retail Federation forecasts a 4.1 percent rise in sales in November and December compared with the same period a year ago. (Interestingly, its survey showed slightly fewer Americans planning to shop on Black Friday this year, 147 million vs. 152 million in 2011.) IHS Global Insight, a Lexington, Mass., economic research firm forecasts holiday retail sales will rise 3.9 percent, not as strong as the 5.5 percent growth last year.

Not everyone is so sanguine. When CreditDonkey, a credit-card comparison website, asked 1,125 consumes what they planned to spend on holiday shopping, 50.7 percent said less than last year and only 31.5 percent said more.

One reason for their reluctance: high anxiety over government policy – the so-called "fiscal cliff" that could send taxes soaring and ax government services beginning in 2013. Only five other times during the past half century have more consumers spontaneously mentioned their unease about government policies in the monthly Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment surveys, writes Richard Curtin, director of the surveys, in his November. analysis.

Still, those worries seem not to have dented consumer confidence, which remains near five-year highs, he adds.

"Consumers typically want to celebrate the holidays by shopping, and in the past have shown their ability to ignore negative fiscal policy headlines during the end-of-year shopping season," Margaret Taylor, a senior credit officer  for New York-based Moody's Investors Service, in a report released earlier this week.

Updated 11:35 pm

Here's a tweet that has been bouncing around twit-o-sphere today. It reads: "Black friday: because only in America people trample each other for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have."

The anti-consumption sentiment strikes a chord with many. But do shoppers really trample each other on Black Friday?

It's happened at least once: In 2008, Walmart worker in Valley Stream, N.Y., was crushed to death when some 2,000 early-morning shoppers ripped doors off hinges and surged into the store in search of Black Friday deals. As the Boston Globe reports Thursday, Walmart is still battling the $7,000 fine by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for the incident.

And last year, in another notorious incident at Walmart, a shopper pepper sprayed her fellow bargain hunters at a Los Angeles store. Apparently, she really wanted that Xbox 360.

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