U.S. cash registers ring on 'Black Friday'

American shoppers jammed malls and stores for discounts on everything from TVs to toys on the official start of the U.S. Christmas shopping season.

Canadian shoppers flood U.S. border stores

American shoppers — who have been hibernating in recent months because of worries about rising gas prices and falling home values — jammed malls and stores for pre-dawn discounts on everything from TVs to toys as the U.S.Christmas shopping season started Friday.

The aggressive tactics —bigger discounts and expanded hours — apparently worked. Based on early reports, Macy's Inc., Toys "R" Us, K-B Toys Inc. and others that were noisy with discounts reported bigger crowds for the early morning bargains than a year ago.

Electronic gadgets, particularly the hard-to-find Nintendo Wii, topped shoppers' wish lists, though frustrations were high among shoppers who couldn't get their hands on the limited bargains.

Many Friday shoppers were Canadians, who crossed at various
border points to take advantage of the high Canadian dollar and buy everything from clothes and shoes to electronics at border stores.

With the U.S. economy relying heavily on the consumer, however, it's crucial that the Black Friday euphoria lasts throughout the season, expected to be the weakest in five years.

"I'm really looking for the bargains this year because I'm losing my job; they're moving our plant to Mexico after the first of the year, so I have to be careful," said Tina Dillow of New Richmond, Ohio, who camped out at a Best Buy store near Cincinnati at 3 a.m. because of a great deal on a laptop.

Lupe Nubes, 23, woke up at 4 a.m. and had pulled her minivan into the Wal-Mart parking lot north of downtown Phoenix an hour later. She left three hours later with four toy Jeeps, clothes, a digital camera, DVDs— and her wallet $422 lighter.

"I love it," Nubes said. "The atmosphere, my family, my friends, everybody gets a present, and we have a big, big family."

"The tougher economic conditions are driving more shoppers to take advantage of early bird specials," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group.

Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at NPD Group Inc., agreed but he noted shoppers were buying selectively. Overall, the biggest draws were consumer electronics, including flat-screen TVs, digital cameras, digital frames, and laptops.

In toys, which have been battered by recalls of a slew of lead-tainted Chinese toys, there were plenty of hits, including video games such as Activision's Guitar Hero III, toys related to Walt Disney's Hannah Montana and Smart Cycle from Mattel's Fisher-Price, toy executives said.

Janet Hoffman, managing partner of the North American retail division of the consulting firm Accenture, believes that some parents, concerned about toy safety, may shift their purchases away from toys to video games and children's clothing. She added that sales of children's clothing fared unusually well Friday.

Mall apparel stores disappointed

While mainstream department stores such as Macy's and J.C. Penney Co., which hammered shoppers with big discounts Friday, seemed to pull in the crowds, traffic at mall-based apparel stores was disappointing, according to Wachovia Capital Markets LLC analyst John Morris.

Jerry Storch, chairman and CEO of Toys "R" Us Inc., which unveiled 101 early morning bargains, four times the number last year, reported 1,000 people waiting in line for the 5 a.m. opening at the Manhattan store, double the number a year ago.

Macy's, Toys "R" Us and others with locations in big cities also enjoyed increased business from foreign shoppers revelling in exchange rates that made discounts even deeper.

Melissa O'Brien, spokeswoman at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which offered such specials as a Polaroid 1,066.8-millimetre LCD HDTV for $798 and a $79.87 Sony digital camera, only said "we are excited about today." Among the most popular items were flat-panel TVs and various toys, particularly from the Transformers line. Special offers had GPS units and digital frames selling "very fast," she said.

Target Corp. spokeswoman Lena Michaud said traffic was strong based on a spot check of stores.

Gail Lavielle, spokeswoman at Sears Holdings Inc., which operates Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart stores, reported traffic increases from a year ago.