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Foot traffic appeared to be down Friday at many of Metro Detroit's big-box stores and malls, with shorter lines, fewer cars in parking lots and shoppers saying Thanksgiving's deals stole some of Black Friday's traditional thunder.

"It's weird because I feel like all the really good deals were on Thanksgiving," said Sarah Kwas, 34, who was shopping at the Toys R Us in Madison Heights. "But the sales are decent today."

Kwas and her sister-in-law Rikki Kwas skipped shopping on Thanksgiving in favor of a more relaxed trip Friday. Rikki Kwas said it is all about priorities. "Let everyone else shop Thursday while we eat," she said.

Reports from around the country point to a strong beginning to the holiday shopping season.

"We are encouraged by what we've seen thus far with eager Thanksgiving Day and early Black Friday shoppers lining up for televisions, electronics, cashmere sweaters and toys," said National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay.

"Reports of record-breaking online sales and store crowds point to a more confident and savvy holiday shopper who knows when, where and how to take advantage of all the promotions retailers are offering."

Most retail analysts and firms predict holiday sales will be up this year between 2.5 and 4.5 percent over last year.

Those who waited until Friday may have missed out on the best deals, according to retail research firm Market Track. With deals being offered earlier, and more shoppers going online, Black Friday is no longer the singular event it used to be.

For instance, Meijer in Detroit was relatively slow early Friday after a busy Thanksgiving.

"We had a very eventful day yesterday," store director Adrian Lewis said Friday. "We're expecting today to be a steady flow."

Small crowds were a plus for Detroiter Andrea Manley, who loaded a shopping cart full of gifts for her three kids, ages 3-8. The cart overflowed with toys, ranging from a $10 Cabbage Patch doll to a $45 Leap Pad.

"I get the best of both worlds," said Manley, 28. "I don't have to stand in long lines but I've had a great experience."

Black Friday first-timer Ashley Mitchell of Detroit arrived at the Meijer store just before it opened at 6 a.m., determined to stick to her short wish list. She said low prices sabotaged that plan.

"There's a deal everywhere. I've got to go," said Mitchell, 23. "I came in here with a plan, and I messed up my plan."

A gigantic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle took up most of Mitchell's cart, with a Galaxy tablet, building blocks and a Hello Kitty set fighting for space.

"I have no idea how to wrap this turtle," Mitchell said. "But all I can see on my son's face is pure joy when he opens it."

Retailers stagger deals

To ensure that shoppers would come out on Black Friday, many retailers staggered deals and doorbusters, releasing them at different times to maintain a steady flow of store traffic. Some, like Wal-Mart, started offering guarantees for some items, meaning all shoppers had to do was show up at the start of the deals and they would get that product eventually — even if the store ran out. Many retailers offered more options for in-store pickup instead of shipping to homes.

Online shopping was off to a very strong start. According to analytics from IBM, online sales were up 14 percent Thanksgiving Day over last year, with mobile traffic accounting for 52 percent of traffic and 32 percent of sales. As of 6 p.m. Friday, online sales were up 8.5 percent, with mobile traffic accounting for 46.7 percent of traffic and 26.1 percent of all sales.

According to a survey by RetailMeNot, which tracks coupons and sales, 1 in 4 consumers expected to have their holiday shopping completely finished by Friday.

One in 5 shoppers said they've never missed a year of shopping on Black Friday, according to a RetailMeNot survey. Of those Black Friday shoppers surveyed, 93 percent said they were willing to wake up early, with 52 percent saying they would hit the stores before 6 a.m. Almost 20 percent said they would not walk away from a great deal, no matter how long the line was.

Tammy Davis of Fraser and her daughter, Amanda Skurda, 16, braved the crowds Friday morning at Menards in Chesterfield Township. They snatched up a bunch of scarves for $2.87, and Davis stood in an empty aisle taking a break from the crush.

Thanksgiving 'for family'

"We are bonding," she said. "We're going to help each other breathe."

Davis said she never would consider shopping on Thanksgiving: "It's Thanksgiving. It's for family."

The Toys R Us in Madison Heights opened at 5 p.m. Thursday and remained open until 11 p.m. Friday. Dozens of shoppers wandered the aisles early Friday.

Lisa Mehelich, 35, has shopped on Thanksgiving or Black Friday every year for almost 20 years.

She arrived at Toys R Us by 7:30 a.m. Friday to get deals on Legos for her son and "Frozen"-themed toys for her daughter.

"She wanted a 'Frozen' cup, 'Frozen' pajamas, 'Frozen' pots and pans, a 'Frozen' karaoke machine, a 'Frozen' doll and a 'Frozen' iPod or iPad," said Mehelich of Holly.

Mehelich said she realizes "Frozen"-themed pots, pans, karaoke and Apple products may not exist. "I don't know," she said. "She made it up in her head."

Luckily, Mehelich's son was more straightforward. "He said, 'Tell Santa that I don't like socks.' "

Great Lakes Crossing General Manager Steve Berlow said about a fifth of those looking for bargains on Thanksgiving and Black Friday were international shoppers. Nearly 70 percent of them were Canadians, but there were also bargain-hunters from China, Brazil, Mexico and Germany.

Marnie Matton of Windsor and Cathie Tonkin of Belle River, Ontario, come to Metro Detroit every year to shop the deals on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. They said they don't have anything like it in Canada, even on Boxing Day.

"This is a family event for us. You don't eat. You just shop," said Tonkin, while taking a breather sitting near the exit of the Kohl's store in Troy. "It's fun."

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2127

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