Second act of shopping frenzy: Will Thanksgiving sales hurt Black Friday numbers?

Based on early reads, the crowds were thin early Friday morning in parts of the country, but traffic is expected to pick up throughout the day.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Target shoppers wait to check out on Black Friday, Nov. 28, 2014, in South Portland, Maine. The store opened at midnight.

Stores are welcoming a second wave of shoppers in what has become a two-day kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

The big question: How much Thanksgiving shopping will hurt Black Friday, which is relinquishing its status as the frenzied start of the holiday shopping season?

Based on early reads, the crowds were thin early Friday morning in parts of the country, but traffic is expected to pick up throughout the day. Analysts and store executives were heartened to see that shoppers seem to be buying more than just the doorbusters.

Bridget McNabb, of Kansas City, Kansas, stopped at a mostly empty suburban Target around 5:30 a.m. Friday after a solid day of holiday cooking. "I started the dishwasher and came in," she said.

Her goal was a coffee pot for her niece. But first, the 55-year-old — who said she was "old enough to know better" than to be out so early — stopped at the electronics department.

"They have a great deal on a TV my husband wants to get his hands on," she said. She was only momentarily disappointed after a store worker told her the $119 TV had sold out the night before.

"I'll pop online later," she said.

Last year, sales on Black Friday slumped 13.2 percent to $9.74 billion, according to ShopperTrak, which tracks data at more than 70,000 stores globally. Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak, says it's still uncertain how stores will fare Friday.

In a fiercely competitive retailing climate, stores have been opening earlier into Thanksgiving. This year, it was clear that retailers pushed the best deals to Thanksgiving to get shoppers first before they run out of money. That could mean plenty of bargain hunters who wanted to keep Thanksgiving sacred will feel disappointed over the discount offerings on Friday.

With stores offering more deals earlier in the month, the holiday weekend has become less important. But the period still sets the tone for the shopping season, whose sales are expected to rise 4.1 percent to $611.9 billion. That would be the biggest increase since 2011.

Shoppers were out in full force on Thanksgiving.

There were 500 people in line by the time a Target store in New York City's East Harlem neighborhood opened at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving. And 200 people rushed in at the Toys R Us in New York City's Times Square when it opened at 5 p.m. For Macy's 6 p.m. opening, there were more than 15,000 shoppers outside its New York flagship store, a little more than last year.

Brian Cornell, who became Target's CEO in August and was at the East Harlem store on Thanksgiving, said shopping traditions have changed.

"It's been more of a week event," he told The Associated Press. After luring shoppers with big discounts on TVs, Razor scooters and other items, Target is hoping to lure back shoppers Friday with a 10 percent discount on gift cards, the first time it has cut gift card prices.

Cornell told The Associated Press that should help drive customers back into the stores not only this weekend but throughout the holiday season.

Cornell said he does feel encouraged as shoppers were buying extra items like clothing and home furnishings.

"The baskets are full," he added.

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