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Mary Kay Bovier and her daughter Jennifer Skoklo shop at Target in Bridgeton, Mo., on Nov. 23, 2018.Hillary Levin/The Associated Press

U.S. shoppers formed long lines at store checkout counters on Black Friday to snap up deep discounts on clothing and electronics, offering evidence that a healthy economy and rising wages are translating into stronger consumer spending at the start of retailers’ make-or-break holiday season.

“I am spending more, the mood generally is more upbeat,” said Sharon Neidert, 57, visiting New York from Ohio. “My daughter moved out this year so I have more disposable income,” said Ms. Neidert, a manager at a software company.

One of the busiest shopping days of the year was off to a strong start, Neil Saunders at GlobalData Retail said.

“More people have already shopped than at this point last year, and their average spend is higher,” Mr. Saunders said. The average spend of those who already shopped on Black Friday was US$407.20, up 2.1 per cent over last year, he said. Early shoppers tend to buy bigger ticket items, such as electronics or furniture.

U.S. department stores Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s Corp., J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Target Corp. were all down between 1 per cent and 3 per cent on Friday and weighed on the broader S&P 500 Retailing Index, down 0.15 per cent.

Victoria’s Secret owner L Brands Inc., Walmart Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. were some of the top gainers on the index, rising between 0.5 per cent to 3 per cent.

Shoppers spent US$643-million online by 10 a.m. ET on Black Friday, with smartphone sales lifting overall online spending by 27.8 per cent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers.

Online spending is on track to hit US$6.4-billion on Friday, which is likely to either match or surpass last year’s Cyber Monday revenue of US$6.6-billion, Adobe said. Online sales on Thanksgiving Day were up 28 per cent at US$3.7-billion.

The National Retail Federation forecast U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 4.3 per cent and 4.8 per cent over 2017 for a total of US$717.45-billion to US$720.89-billion. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.9 per cent over the past five years.

About 38 per cent of American consumers plan to shop on Black Friday, and six in 10 anticipate making at least half of their holiday purchases on that day, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed last week.

DEAL FRENZY

Shoppers picked up big-ticket items such as TVs, Apple Inc. iPads and Watches at Target, while phones, toys, gaming consoles and cookware were top sellers at Walmart Inc.

Some of the deals:

  • An H&M store in Manhattan offered 30-per-cent off everything in-store and online.
  • Macy’s in Herald Square, Manhattan, sold a Coach designer wallet, originally US$225, for US$53.
  • At a Chicago-area Pandora, which makes popular charm bracelets that can cost up to US$1,000, jewellery was 35-per-cent off before 10 a.m. and 25-per-cent off for the remainder of the day.
  • A sign in the window of a Gap Factory Store in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, promoted “60 per cent Off Everything.” 
  • Walmart was selling a Roomba WiFi robot vacuum online or for in-store pickup for US$100 off at US$194.
  • Buy one, get one free pyjamas at Victoria’s Secret.

Charlotte Jackson, from London, came to New York with her mother for Black Friday shopping.

“Black Friday isn’t as big of a deal back home,” Ms. Jackson, a 27-year-old tax adviser, said while shopping for lingerie and pyjamas at Victoria’s Secret.

MORE TOYS AT TARGET, JC PENNEY

Many retailers, reacting to the bankruptcy of the Toys "R" Us chain, are catering to parents.

Target said in October, it planned to dedicate nearly a quarter of a million square feet of new space to its toy business across 500 of its stores. The discount chain’s customers will also be able to shop for more than 2,500 new and exclusive toys, Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer said.

“Toys "R" Us had better quality for toys,” said Ashley Drew, 29, who was shopping for her five-year-old daughter at a Los Angeles-area Walmart next door to the empty shell of a Toys "R" Us store.

Department store J.C. Penney, known for its mid-priced apparel, has also made a push into toys.

Sabrina Wengert, a 38-year-old homemaker, picked up a Discovery Art set and a Ned’s Head guessing game for her nine-year-old daughter.

“The toy section at J.C. Penney looks good and they have stocked more toys at Target too, but Toys "R" Us going out of business is a big loss,” she said. “We are shopping for toys on Amazon this year as well.”

Shortly before 6 a.m. on Friday, shoppers were banging on the door at a Bath & Body Works in the Waterfront Mall in Pittsburgh, lining up for discounted candles, soaps and lotion, while long lines formed at checkout counters in a Dick’s Sporting Goods store in the mall.

There was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy of Black Fridays from past years, in other parts of the country, especially the Northeast, where crowds were thin owing to record-setting cold weather.

An Athleta clothing store in Tyson’s Corner, Va., provided hot chocolate with marshmallows to women in line for the dressing room.