NEW YORK (AP/WCCO) — Black Friday shoppers spent the day hunting for deals across the metro, stores opened for what is still one of the busiest days of the year, even as the start of the holiday season edges ever earlier. Many were looking for deals on entertainment.

Twin Cities-based retailers Target and Best Buy both opened Thursday evening.

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Julie Singewald’s Black Friday started at 4 a.m. at a Twin Cities outlet mall. By 6 a.m., she and her two teenage daughters made it to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. Singewald said she was merely the vehicle — “and sometimes the credit card” — as her daughters hunted for deals and worked on their shopping lists. Increasingly, the 44-year-old is doing more of her shopping online.

“I’m a point-and-click person,” she said. “If it were up to me, I would be in my pajamas and on my computer at home.”

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, used to launch the holiday season, but the competition to grab customers first is keen. Stores like Macy’s, Walmart, Target and more were open Thursday evening in what they hope will be a new holiday tradition as they try to fight off competition from Amazon.

After what appeared to be a strong turnout for Thanksgiving sales, some early morning reports indicate that traffic to malls was slower on Black Friday than even last year as retailers are spreading out the deals throughout the week.

“It was a really good start. But I have never seen Black Friday morning so calm,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, a market research firm, who visited malls on Long Island on Friday. He still believes the weekend’s sales will likely be up over last year because shoppers did lots of buying, including pricy flat-screen TVs.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which started its Black Friday sales on Thursday at 6 p.m., said shoppers were embracing technology products. Steve Bratspies, chief merchandising officer at Wal-Mart’s U.S. division, said in addition to Black Friday favorites like televisions and toys, they were looking for drones, virtual reality products and hoverboards.

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. started its online sale just after midnight on Thanksgiving, three hours earlier than last year. It reported on Friday that 70 percent of the traffic to its website came from mobile devices.

Twin Cities-based Mall of America opted to close on Thanksgiving this year. But, it opened at 5 a.m. to about 1,500 people lined up to shop.

Leah Olson was at Mall of America Friday morning, following some Thanksgiving night trips to Target and a local mall. Olsen said she had done some online shopping, but preferred making in-person stops.

“I always like to walk, go to the mall,” said the Chanhassen, Minnesota resident. “I just like shopping.”

This weekend is crucial to set the tone for the holiday season. Around 137 million people plan to or are considering doing their shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. That includes online and store shopping. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, vies with the Saturday before Christmas as the busiest shopping day of the year.

The NRF, the nation’s largest retail group, expects holiday sales to rise 3.6 percent for November and December, better than the 3 percent growth seen for those months last year. The NRF estimated that the average American will spend roughly $589 this holiday easeon. That excludes car sales, gas and restaurant receipts. But it includes online spending and other non-store sales such as catalog spending. Consumer experts said online sales are expected to climb as much as 10 percent compared to last year.

The Mall of America expects nearly 400,000 people to visit this weekend. This if our times as busy as a typical weekend. The also expect to give out 10,000 gift cards.

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