Black Friday arrives amid economic uncertainty

Black Friday Shopping Begins On Thanksgiving Evening
A boy waits to enter the Toys R Us in Times Square on Nov. 27, 2014 in New York. Black Friday sales, which now begin on the Thursday of Thanksgiving,...

Neither snow, nor sleet, nor blackouts , nor mounds of leftovers cooling in the fridge could keep shoppers from heading to malls and stores in search of bargains Friday.

As "Gray Thursday" gave way to "Black Friday" consumers were already on dawn patrols for doorbusters in hopes of scoring 30 percent to 50 percent off on the holiday season's hottest items, from "Frozen" dolls to smartphones to 4k TVs. Many stores opened early on Thanksgiving Day, some at the crack of dawn long before the turkey was in the oven and the football games began. On Friday, the merchants began opening their doors at 6 a.m. and crowds were already gathering.

"It's a little busier than I expected to see this morning," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at the NPD Group, who said he spied hordes of millennials seeking bargains.

"All the years I've been doing this, I've never seen so many young kids," he said.

The annual shopping migration was playing itself out in an atmosphere of uncertainty. Stagnant wages for many, except for the affluent, and tepid sales earlier in the year have given rise to a wide range of predictions about the most crucial season of the year for merchants. The most optimistic were calling for a rise of about 4.1 percent -- to $611.9 billion -- versus last year's holiday season. If that comes true, it would be the biggest increase since 2011.

And with the rise of online shopping and "Christmas creep," with some retailers offering holiday discounts for over a week now, Black Friday itself has become less of a sprint to the doorbuster deals, and more of a marathon spread out over several days. 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 how stores will fare Friday is uncertain.

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