They looked, they counted and they liked the numbers.
Less than 48 hours after department stores swung their doors wide open in the pre-dawn chill to let in first Christmas shoppers, the main national retail tracker reported that the US holiday shopping season was off to a "relatively strong start."
Sales on Black Friday, as the day following the Thanksgiving holiday is widely known, jumped a healthy 6 percent compared with a year ago to reach an estimated US$8.96 billion, ShopperTrak RCT Corp said in its retail performance estimate released on Saturday.
Christmas sales have been traditionally seen as a reliable barometer of consumer confidence and the overall performance of the US economy.
Their strength this year may have come as a surprise as a Gallup poll taken earlier this month found that only 40 percent of Americans believed the state of the nation's economy was either "excellent" or "good," while 59 percent described it as "fair" or "poor."
But the pocketbook vote yielded a different result.
Nice opening shot
"Although we anticipated a solid consumer turnout for Black Friday, this data shows an even larger increase than expected as consumers proved they were willing to spend," said Bill Martin, co-founder of ShopperTrak.
He cautioned that Black Friday was not the greatest bellwether for the season's performance and retailers needed to remain cautious.
"But undoubtedly this type of a season opening is a nice shot in the arm for the industry," Martin said.
Scenes of expectation and excitement, sometimes bordering on chaos, mirrored each other from shopping mall to shopping mall -- from New York to Chicago to Seattle.
After a traditional brief pause for Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, department stores began opening their doors as early as 5am on Friday, luring early comers with promises of their most juicy bargains.
ShopperTrak said Friday's "impressive consumer outpouring" should have retailers feeling cautiously optimistic for this year's Christmas season when retailers usually make the bulk of their profits.
The success, the company concluded, had a lot to do with extended retail discounts and a recent decline in gas and other energy prices that may have left consumers with more disposable income to spend.
The most breathtaking growth, however, was reported in the burgeoning sector of Internet sales, which took off just a few years ago.
Hot online sales
Retail Decisions, a Hazlet, New Jersey-based company that specializes in online fraud prevention, said on Saturday that Internet trade volumes went up a whopping 109 percent on Black Friday compared with a year ago.
"Through our global fraud prevention and payment processing platforms, we record and analyze a significant percentage of online payment transactions globally," said Carl Clump, the Retail Decisions chief executive officer.
"There has certainly been a significant surge on Black Friday as retailers promote their online shopping channels as vigorously as their brick and mortar stores," he said.