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November 29. 2013 8:08PM

Will Thanksgiving shopping binge become Black Friday hangover?

NEW YORK (Reuters) — An early start to this year’s holiday shopping season may not necessarily ring-up bigger holiday sales for retailers. Eager to entice cautious consumers, especially with six fewer shopping days this year than in 2012, many retailers offered sales on Thanksgiving, traditionally a day for family, friends and football games.

Even Macy’s flagship store in New York opened at 8 p.m., the first time ever on the American holiday. As a result, some U.S. shoppers may have hit malls and stores on Thanksgiving, rather than during the traditional “Black Friday” blitz. By late morning, the number of shoppers in many stores more closely resembled a normal Saturday than the usual frenzied Black Friday kickoff to the holiday season.

“It’s a lot less than I thought,” said Alison Goodwin, from Horsham, Pa., who ventured to the Willow Grove Park mall the day after Thanksgiving in search of holiday gifts and maybe a treat for herself. “It’s like any weekend in December,” Goodwin said of the size of the crowd.

Terry Lundgren, Macy’s chief executive, said the Thanksgiving flagship Manhattan store opening lured an estimated 15,000 shoppers. Roughly 11,000 shoppers turned out at the store for last year’s Black Friday midnight open.

“It’s not just spreading out traffic over last year, but it’s also increasing it,” Lundgren said of the department store overall. He declined to say how much he expects the additional shopping to increase sales.

The National Retail Federation is predicting that holiday sales will increase a marginal 3.9 percent to $602.1 billion, leaving retailers to battle for a bigger slice of that somewhat larger pie. This year’s holiday shopping results likely will mimic the slow-growing U.S. economy and leave little to write home about, said Can Erbil, an adjunct associate professor of economics at Boston College.

“Last year’s shopping season was actually pretty bad. The Connecticut school shootings, Hurricane Sandy and fiscal cliff fears really hit the shopping season hard. So the benchmark is low,” Erbil said.

Thanksgiving proved bright for one sliver of retail — online sales. Overall, Thanksgiving online sales were up 19.7 percent from last year, and the average order value was $127.59, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Early Black Friday turnout was thin at Willow Grove Park mall, in a Philadelphia suburb. Early morning shoppers included Emily Arkowitz and Ashlee Ryan, two friends on their first-ever Black Friday excursion and browsing at an H&M clothing store at 7:30 a.m. “We walked in thinking that all the clothes would be gone,” said Arkowitz of Haverton, Pa.

The store sold out of many specials, according to a manager, but many Black Friday deals were still advertised on clothing racks, including a $4.95 sweater and $14.95 dress.