Frenzied shoppers across the United States joined the Black Friday rush for bargains, the kick-off to the crucial holiday shopping season being closely watched amid a lackluster economy.
Television images showed berserk buyers charging through doors as stores opened up for Black Friday sales on the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Some stores opened at midnight, while others such as big-box retailers Walmart and Target jumped the gun, opening on Thanksgiving night and carving into the family-centered holiday.
At 11:00 pm Thursday, scores of people were lined up outside a Best Buy store electronics store waiting for its midnight opening.
Phyllis Loges, 52, and her daughter had already waited four hours. "I want to buy a home cinema with TV and sound system," she said, adding that the doorbuster sale price was $1,500, instead of normal prices around $3,500.
In New York City, the well-known Macy's flagship department store was a destination for many. Macy's chief executive Terry Lundgren was on the scene as it opened at midnight.
"I swear I was standing there for 18 to 20 minutes, and the lines of incoming traffic never stopped," he told NBC. "People are definitely shopping and kicking off the shopping on Black Friday."
Black Friday was a boon for tourists, too.
At 7:00 am Friday, Abdul Albudikhi, a 22-year-old from Saudi Arabia, left a Hollister clothing store on Fifth Avenue, his arms laden with shopping bags after shopping since midnight.
"I bought jeans, shoes, a present for my girlfriend, one for my father," he said.
Walmart, the world's biggest retailer, said it had its "best ever" Black Friday, with larger crowds than last year.
Meanwhile, disgruntled Walmart workers mounted strikes and protests across the country seeking better pay and benefits.
"There is going to be an impact," employee William Fletcher told MSNBC. "The point isn't so much to hurt Walmart as much as it is to get them to listen to us and appreciate the work we do."
Some competitive shoppers lost their cool as they tussled over items or staked out their spots in line.
According to the San Antonio Express News website, one man pulled a gun on another who punched him in the face while the two were waiting in line outside a Sears store late Thursday.
Black Friday starts the year-end holiday shopping season that often tips retailers out of the red and into the black for the year.
But the day's impact on balance sheets is starting to wane, as more and more stores try to reel in customers on Thursday, even if it means that their employees have to forego the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
A decade ago, it would have been impossible to find a single store open on Thanksgiving along New York's big shopping arteries such as Broadway.
But on Thursday, as for the past several years, nearly all the stores were open where Broadway traverses the SoHo neighborhood of lower Manhattan.
Despite a still-struggling economy, Macy's Lundgren seemed upbeat about prospects for the rest of the year, although he acknowledged that November would likely be "a little bit softer" than retailers might like.
The growth of 24/7 online sales is another challenge to brick-and-mortar shopping.
While the National Retail Federation is expecting a 4.1 percent rise in holiday sales this year compared with 2011, data tracker comScore is projecting a jump of 15-18 percent in online purchases.
The NRF projects fewer shoppers in stores and online on Black Friday and the weekend: 147 million, down 3 percent from a year ago.
"Black Friday's on a crash course with irrelevance. Before long, all we're going to be talking about is Cyber Monday," said Louis Banese at Wall Street Daily.
Peter Morici, an economics professor at the University of Maryland, said that Black Friday remains important for retail sales, a big part of the consumer spending that powers about 70 percent of US economic growth.
But he warned that Americans remain cautious amid a fragile recovery.
"If the weekend numbers are not good, the holiday season won't be good."