LIVERMORE, Calif. (KTVU/AP) - Lines were long at the outlet mall in Livermore, where stores opened at 3 p.m. on Thanskgiving Day, hours before the official start of Black Friday.
"We shop until tomorrow night," Diane Oberg of Brentwood said early Friday morning with a shopping cart full of gifts. "We've been doing this for so long, it's fun."
The scene was so crowded early Friday at the San Francisco Premium Outlets in Livermore, that there were signs up telling shoppers to park at Las Positas College.
The shopping scenario repeated itself throughout at Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, at Target in San Francisco, and around the country, where shoppers were out before dawn in the U.S. for fun and for deals, as retailers that have had a tough year were hoping to bring customers to their stores and websites for Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
There were some exceptions, though: The crowds were nearly nonexistent before dawn on Friday at a Target in Colma, as managers told KTVU most of the shoppers came out on Thanksgiving night instead.
Black Friday has morphed from a single day when people got up early to score doorbusters into a whole season of deals, so shoppers may feel less need to be out. Some love the excitement, even if they've already done some of their shopping online.
With the jobless rate at a 17-year-low of 4.1 percent and consumer confidence stronger than a year ago, analysts project healthy sales increases for November and December. The National Retail Federation trade group expects sales for that period to at least match last year's rise of 3.6 percent and estimates online spending and other non-store sales will rise 11 to 15 percent.
Analysts at Bain say Amazon is expected to take half of the holiday season's sales growth. And Amazon is the top destination for people to begin holiday shopping, according to a September study by market research firm NPD Group.
"I buy pretty much what I can on Amazon," said Lam Huynh, who was at Macy's In New York on Thursday evening during a visit to New York from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Like many consumers, he's been spending less time at the malls and more online. For the holiday season, he plans to do what he's been doing for the past few years: Go to deal sites and find the best prices.
And yet there are efforts to combat this online shopping. In Oakland, for instance, city leaders named the weekend "Plaid Friday Weekend," and have been conducting a big marketing push to get people to shop locally.
About 69 percent of Americans, or 164 million people, intend to shop at some point during the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, according to a survey released by the NRF. It expects Black Friday to remain the busiest day, with about 115 million people planning to shop then.