Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping days of the year, is in full swing.
Based on the crowds and deals, retailers are carefully watching for indications of whether they'll have a holly, jolly holiday season -- or a dud.
Black Friday had long been the most frenzied shopping day of the year, but lost its perch in 2014 when the Saturday before Christmas surpassed it in sales.
The forecasts for this holiday season have been strong, with consultancy Deloitte predicting that retailers will reap between $1.04 and $1.05 trillion. But Black Friday, as well as the entire Thanksgiving weekend, will be the first solid indication of whether those expectations are on the mark.
The scenes early Friday morning were mixed. Traffic was brisk at Eastview Mall in Victor, Ontario County, New York where teens arrived ready to shop when popular stores like Hollister, American Eagle Outfitters and Bath and Bodyworks opened at 6 a,m. with their special deals.
Eastview Mall manager Mike Kauffman was optimistic about the shopping season, expecting sales to be up 2% to 3%.
But a Walmart in Secaucus, N.J., was a ghost town Friday morning. At 7:15 a.m., only several dozen shoppers made their way up and down the aisles.
Claudia Peterson said she was surprised to see how few people were out, taking advantage of Black Friday sales. Walmart was her second stop. The Target she said she'd visited earlier in the nearby city of North Bergen, N.J., had also been dead.
"I don't like it.,'' said the 55-year-old security guard from Jersey City. "I used to be in line at midnight and by 7 a.m., you're bumping into people and saying hello. It's too laid back. I like the rushed crowds."
Peterson was on the hunt for towels, pajamas, plastic food containers and electronics for both herself and others on her holiday gifts list. 'I don't like shopping online,'' she said. "I like picking stuff off the shelf.''
It was also fairly quiet at a Target, in Brooklyn, NY. But Lucian Sperta, 55, said he didn't mind.
"I thought there was going to be a mob. I'm so relieved,'' said Sperta who works in the mental health field, and left his home in The Bronx to get to the store by 7 a.m. "I had to mentally prepare. I thought there was going to be a lot of people. That's why I left so early. Then I got here and it's exactly as I love it, nice and quiet.''
He also doesn't count himself as part of the wave of shoppers who descend on stores specifically to get first dibs on holiday deals. "I don't usually do Thanksgiving or Black Friday shopping,'' he says. "I don't need the latest gadget or whatever was upgraded. I don't follow that stuff. . . I just came here for my groceries and regular shopping. That stuff is cheaper in the store."
In recent years, Black Friday has been marred by violence at some early-morning sales. The kick off to this holiday shopping season appeared to be mostly peaceful, but a Best Buy in Aurora, Colorado, was forced to close Thursday night after a suspicious device was discovered in the store.
Shoppers had to evacuate the electronics store as well as the parking lot in the Denver suburb, shortly before 11 p.m. The Aurora Police Department tweeted that it would investigate and destroy the device which was retrieved by the department's bomb squad. Best Buy was scheduled to reopen Friday morning.
Many retailers began rolling out their Black Friday deals before the Thanksgiving Day dishes were put away, and many enthusiastic shoppers headed straight from the dinner table to the mall.
Some didn't even wait for dinner.
"We're going to eat turkey and celebrate Thanksgiving Friday," said Luis Martinez, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., who was at the front of the line at a nearby Best Buy.
For Martinez, it was worth it to score some of the best deals of the year including a 50-inch Sharp 4K television for $179.99, $320 off the regular price of $499.99 and a laptop.
Some even ate turkey before store openings while on the line. Nancy Mejia brought her father Margarito Mejia, who got to the Best Buy in Stuart, Fla., at 10 p.m. Wednesday, a Thanksgiving lunch with all the fixings.
“Because of Black Friday shopping, we usually do Thanksgiving lunch instead of dinner and then we have leftovers after we shop,” Nancy Mejia said.
Retailers were watching closely to see if shoppers skipped their aggressive doorbuster discounts and headed to their computer keyboard for deals instead.,
Many decided to stay warm and click and buy instead. Shoppers had spent $1.52 billion online, as of 5 PM on Thanksgiving day, 16.8% more than last year, according to Adobe Analytics. And buying and browsing on smart phones hit a new record, with 46% of traffic occurring with the click of an Android, IPhone, or other pocket sized gadget -- a 15% leap over 2016.
Meanwhile Amazon said that purchases made with its mobile app were 50% higher on the holiday than the number placed on smart phones on Thanksgiving last year.
That trend was expected to continue on Friday, when Adobe predicted that shoppers would make $5 billion in purchases, 16.4% more than Black Friday in 2016.
During Thanksgiving week, some 35% of shoppers said they intended to do most of their shopping on Black Friday this year, down from 59% in 2015, according to an analysis by consultancy PwC.
The waning power of Black Friday as retailers start their sales on Thanksgiving Day or earlier, and shoppers increasingly grab deals online was on stark display in Secaucus, NJ, where the parking lots around the Harmon Meadow shopping complex were about a quarter full Friday morning.
Diana Tessier says that she was once a serious Black Friday fan, heading out at 3 a.m. armed with coffee, But the 31-year-old teacher from Hoboken, NJ, says that stopped after a fellow shopper pushed her aside to grab a TV.
"Now, its Black Thursday. It's not even Black Friday anymore," said Tessier, who was strolling through a Marshalls/Home Good store in search of discounted decor items for her remodeled home. "Once stores started opening then, I wasn't going to ruin my Thanksgiving."
With about 20 people to buy gifts for, Tessier says that this year, she shopped online after the big family dinner -- and she plans to look on Cyber Monday for price cuts and then circle back to those stores to ask for the difference to be refunded.
Still, for many Americans, Black Friday remains as much of a family tradition as turkey, football and pumpkin pie. And on a weekend that the National Retail Federation predicts will draw over 164 million shoppers, Black Friday is still expected to be the main event with 70% of Americans saying that they will start filling their shopping carts on that day.
It's also the day that shoppers are expected to find the best online deals if they're looking for TV, appliance, tablet or piece of jewelry, Adobe says.
Josh Medina, 18, woke up around 4:15 a.m. and hopped on a bus to get to a Best Buy in Brooklyn by 5 a.m., where he waited in the cold for three hours to try to get his hands on computer accessories and hard drives.
"When we first got here there were only a few people,'' said Medina, a camp counselor at an after-school program. "But within 30 minutes, the line was pretty long, around the building.''
Shopping on Black Friday is a family ritual he says, with he and his parents usually heading to upstate New York to visit a Walmart. His parents were there while he did his shopping this year in Brooklyn.
Black Friday is also one of the few days when Medina says he makes a point of venturing to an actual store. Otherwise, he's clicking away online.
"You have to wait for shipping,'' he said of his decision to grab his Black Friday deals in person, "and I wanted my stuff right now.''
The holiday shopping period is always the most important to the retail industry, and this season is particularly critical at a time when industry stalwart Toys R Us has sought bankruptcy protection, iconic companies like J.C. Penney and Sears are shutting stores, and traditional chains are struggling to compete with e-commerce giant Amazon.