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11:01 PM Thu, Sept. 20th

Shoppers dial down Black Friday madness a notch

Bridgette Cole and her daughter Brooklyn shop together at Bath & Body Works in the Prescott Gateway Mall on Black Friday. (Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier)

Bridgette Cole and her daughter Brooklyn shop together at Bath & Body Works in the Prescott Gateway Mall on Black Friday. (Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier)

PRESCOTT - Back up Christmas shopping one full day. With many stores promoting doorbusters starting Thursday, Black Friday shoppers had a more relaxed shopping experience.

So many stores hopped on the bandwagon that many dubbed Thanksgiving afternoon "Gray Thursday."

Shorter lines and less elbowing may have been a welcome change for consumers who avoided Black Friday crowds in previous years. Shoppers seemed just as excited to kick off the biggest spending season of the year.

"We're going to shop till we drop," Lorraine Anglin said.

Many retailers opened their doors Thursday evening and stayed open late or all night, attracting shoppers who would have stood in line Friday morning in years past.

It's too early to see whether the push for more Thursday sales will be a boon for retailers. National sales estimates will start showing up over the weekend. However, sales figures for the post-Thanksgiving weekend are not always an indicator of the next several weeks.

Even so, Black Friday has traditionally been the biggest sales day of the year. The last time it wasn't was in 2004. However, retail analyst ShopperTrak predicted Thursday sales would come close to tying Friday.

A survey by The International Council of Shopping Centers indicated 41 percent of U.S. consumers planned to shop Friday. Far fewer - 18 percent of those surveyed - said they planned to shop in a physical store on Thanksgiving.

That's despite an analysis by MarketTrack that more items are on sale at steeper discounts Thursday.

Some shoppers, however, were willing to forego some of the steeper Thursday discounts and not let the shopping season interrupt their holiday events.

"We wanted to allow people to have Thanksgiving off, so we were protesting silently," shopper Ashlee Mangum said of her decision to put off shopping till Friday morning.

Still, she said the Friday deals were impressive.

"We've had an enjoyable experience," Mangum said. "We found what we wanted."

She and a friend started at Wal-Mart before heading to Kohl's. Then it was on to Prescott Gateway Mall and Target.

Laura Roush said she had planned to start her holiday shopping Thursday, but family obligations kept her at home.

"Otherwise, I was going to go out," she said. "I still got what I wanted. It worked out for me."

Gray Thursday and Black Friday lead to Small Business Saturday, and onto Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday the following week.

The string of shopping days now are the prelude to many retailers' most profitable sales period. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last year's November and December retail sales made up nearly 20 percent of annual totals.

The National Retail Foundation predicted a 4.1 percent increase in November and December retail sales to a total of $616.9 billion.

Many online retailers ran promotions through the week, which may have spread out the mass of visitors that can cripple websites.

Still, "a concentrated spike in mobile traffic" prompted Best Buy to take its site down for more than an hour Friday, according to company spokesman Jeff Shelman. Online monitoring firm Dynatrace said Cabela's, Foot Locker and J.C. Penney also had website problems.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen.