Although total holiday spending may be down this year, shoppers descended on retail stores in droves today, ready to shake off Thanksgiving Day malaise and open their wallets.
It's the blowout shopping day known as Black Friday, when retailers large and small entice consumers with cut-throat prices on everything from apparel, luxury goods, electronics and jewelry.
New mom Jill Johnson wasn't afraid to be aggressive while hunting for deals in South Towne Mall in Sandy, Utah.
"I just started running people over with my stroller, so it worked," she said, laughing.
But aggressive shopping in one California store was no laughing matter. An Upland, Calif., Walmart kicked its customers out and shut its doors for two hours early this morning after the crowds got too rowdy.
Police said the problems began about 3 a.m. when workers began bringing out some of the big-ticket items such as $200 laptops. Customers started grabbing the merchandise before the store management was ready.
Walmart has had Black Friday crowd-control problems before: A temporary worker at a Long Island, N.Y., Walmart was trampled to death last year when shoppers rushed into the store.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at New York retail consulting firm NPD Group, said, generally, this year's Black Friday shopping rush was less chaotic than last year's.
Consumers, he said, did their research and were entering stores with specific goals in mine instead of browsing. Retailers, in turn, made the big deals easier to find.
"The retailer put the sale items front and center," he said. "There was no longer the scavenger hunt that they've used in the past. It was a much easier, more organized shopping experience."
Cohen, who visited seven shopping malls in the New York metropolitan area this morning, said foot traffic was as high or higher than last year. Consumers looking to buy things for themselves (instead of just gifts for others) is part of what's motivating this year's shopping throngs, he said.
"Last year, no one was buying for themselves," he said. "It was the absence of impulse and self-purchasing, this year people are actually telling me, 'You know what, I'm going to buy this for myself too because I haven't bought anything all year.'"
Now is a critical time for retailers. Spending on the weekend after Thanksgiving is typically a strong indicator of how the rest of the holiday season will develop.
Today is called Black Friday because it's the date on which retailers are typically expected to become profitable for the year, or go to being in the black from being in the red. As in the past, it's likely to be the No. 1 shopping day of the year, by both foot traffic and sales. Black Friday will generate 6 percent of the season's revenue, according to ShopperTrak, a store- and mall-traffic tracker.
Big-top retailers such as Walmart, Sears, Best Buy and Target began slashing prices weeks ahead of Black Friday in the hope of luring thrifty shoppers into their stores.
Unexpected retailers such as Lowe's, Home Depot and PetSmart joined in the Black Friday discounting, advertising deep discounts on everything from table settings to snow blowers.
Walmart's Black Friday specials include 50-inch Sanyo plasma HDTVs for $598 and Magnavox Blu-ray disc players for $78, according to Melissa O'Brien,a company spokeswoman.