Holiday shoppers stormed malls across the United States in what has become an annual ritual on Black Friday to snag the biggest bargains as early as possible.
Industry analysts were looking for a 3.5 percent increase in sales over last year for the day. Early reports indicated shoppers were in a buying mood, with many gifting themselves as well as others.
In much of the country, shoppers had to cope with bad weather as a major storm that dumped snow in the Rocky Mountain states headed east toward New England.
Many stores pushed up their openings to 4 or 5 a.m. to accommodate the holiday crowds, some of whom camped out through Thanksgiving to be assured of scoring their prizes. Walmart, which was open Thanksgiving Day, opened to shoppers at midnight, providing food and entertainment to lure shoppers in the 5 hours before their special pricing kicked in, and Kohl's pushed its opening to 3 a.m.
Sears-Kmart spokesman Tom Aiello told The Detroit News lines were longer than last year.
Toys R Us Chief Executive Officer Gerard Storch told CNN managers across the country were reporting long lines. The stores opened at 10 p.m. Thursday and offered two rounds of specials.
In Chicago's suburbs, Woodfield Mall, the largest in the region, sported parking lots so crowded, shoppers were forced to find alternatives, WBBM-AM, Chicago, reported.
Melissa Guzman of Visalia, Calif., who had her eye on special laptop deals at Staples, told CNN her Black Friday shopping required a special game plan.
"This year, since I don't have to work the day after Thanksgiving, I'll get up at 4 in the morning," the convenience store cashier said.
At the Toys R Us in Hurst, Texas, Britni Gooch of Keller, Texas, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram she had been waiting in line since 2 p.m. Thursday.
"I have a 7-year-old and a 7-month-old and I'm just going to get everything in that age range," said Gooch, who emerged from the store with 2 1/2 carts stuffed with toys.
"We had the best turnout yet. We had an estimated 1,800 people waiting to get in at midnight," said Nick Nicolosi, general manager of the North Point Mall in Alpharetta, Ga. He told CNN sales on clothes, game consoles and iPods appeared to be luring shoppers.
Stores have learned how to better manage their Black Friday crowds following the 2008 stampede at the Valley Stream, N.Y., Walmart that left one worker dead.
Since the tragedy, the store has worked with "crowd-management experts," Walmart spokesman Greg Rossiter told CNNMoney.com.
"So far, so good," Rossiter said less than an hour after midnight Friday.
Shoppers were also controlled by metal barricades that kept them in lines, rather than allowing large knots of people to form.
One shopper compared it to "Rikers," referring to a New York City jail.