NEW YORK - US shoppers officially kicked off the critical holiday shopping season with annual "Black Friday" promotions as a pressured retail sector competes over precious consumer dollars in the low-growth economy.
The shopping frenzy also triggered some violence. There was a shooting, a stabbing and a number of other disruptions, though no deaths reported as in prior years.
Foot traffic in downtown Manhattan was busy in the morning hours, but not at peak saturation levels. Still, there was a buzz of excitement in the air as consumer trekked in search of discounts of 40 per cent or more.
"At three or four o'clock in the morning, it was very crazy. We went with the flow," said Jason Flores, who was carrying bags from Macy's and Zara, among others. "It's best not to have a plan. It makes it more fun."
Retailers have expanded the "Black Friday" concept to new limits in 2013, opening ever earlier on Thanksgiving Day, pulling more shopping all-nighters and kicking off promotions up to a week before the big day itself.
Some big retailers, including Walmart and Target, reported brisk starts to the big shopping weekend. But analysts say it is still too soon to judge the performance of Black Friday, traditionally an important proxy for the retail sector and consumer strength overall.
The more ominous aspects of the annual shopping ritual were also on display.
Local media reported that police shot a suspected shoplifter in Chicago, while a man was stabbed in Virginia in a fight over a Walmart parking spot. YouTube carried a video of unruly crowds at a Texas store.
In New Boston, Ohio, a woman was "knocked down" at a Walmart and took herself to the hospital, a New Boston police officer said. The officer said the woman was not seriously injured.
Walmart also found itself the target of protests in Chicago, Dallas and other cities over low pay.