(Reuters) - Mall crowds were relatively thin early on Black Friday in a sign of what has become the new normal in U.S. holiday shopping: the mad rush is happening the night of Thanksgiving and more consumers are picking up deals online.
Most major retailers now open their doors Thursday evening and offer extended holiday deals rather than limiting them to one day. The result is a quieter experience on what has traditionally been the busiest, and sometimes most chaotic, shopping day of the year.
"It just looks like any other weekend," said Angela Olivera, a 32-year old housewife shopping for children's clothing at the Westfarms Mall near Hartford, Connecticut. "The kind of crowds we usually see are missing and this is one of the biggest malls here. I think people are just not spending a lot."
The crowds normally reserved for Black Friday morning appeared Thursday night. Over 15,000 people lined up for the opening of the flagship store of Macy's Inc (M.N) in New York on Thursday, Chief Executive Officer Terry Lundgren told CNN. Police responded to a handful of incidents at Wal-Mart Stores (WMT.N) on Thursday, including to break up a fight over a Barbie doll in Los Angeles, CNN said.
Target Corp (TGT.N) CEO Brian Cornell told Reuters he was encouraged by early indicators for a holiday season that "has moved from an event on Black Friday morning to a multi-day event."
"The consumer clearly enjoys shopping on Thanksgiving," Cornell said, noting the retailer was selling 1,800 televisions per minute nationwide between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. last night.
Wal-Mart said Thursday was its second-highest online sales day ever after last year's Cyber Monday, which is the Monday following Thanksgiving when online retailers promote bargains. Cornell said Target rang up a record day of online sales on Thursday.
Overall Thanksgiving Day online sales rose 14.3 percent from a year earlier, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.
The National Retail Federation is projecting that sales for November and December will rise 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion, which would mark the most bountiful holiday season in three years. Holiday sales grew 3.1 percent in 2013.
It was unclear what impact a movement to boycott Black Friday in protest of a grand jury's decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri might have on the holiday season. The movement has gained some momentum on Twitter and Facebook.
OUR Walmart, a group of Wal-Mart employees pushing for higher wages and benefits, is also hoping to use Black Friday to spread its message with protests planned at 1,600 stores across the country.
(reporting by Nandita Bose and Nathan Layne; Editing by Jilian Mincer and Paul Simao)