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Two customers walk with their purchased items after shopping Friday at a Kohl's department store in La Habra, Calif. Thousands of shoppers lined up at Macy's, Best Buy and other stores nationwide to buy everything from toys to tablets on Black Friday despite the economic downturn. - AP

Black Friday boom

More Americans hunted for bargains over the weekend than ever before as retailers lured them online and into stores with big discounts and an earlier-than-usual start to the holiday shopping season.

A record 226 million shoppers visited stores and websites during the four-day holiday weekend starting on Thanksgiving Day, up from 212 million last year, according to early estimates by The National Retail Federation released on Sunday. Americans spent more, too: The average holiday shopper spent $398.62 over the weekend, up from $365.34 a year ago.

Art and Anna Destrada from Port Chester, N.Y., were among the holiday shoppers. They started shopping on Thanksgiving evening at a Walmart store, went to various malls in New Jersey on Friday, and got some deals at Macy's on Saturday. They spent a total of $2,000 on gifts for themselves and others, including a Wii videogame console, clothing and jewelry. "We've saved for Christmas and put away money all year," says Anna Destrada, 49. "We stayed within our means so we can make a few splurges."

The results for the first holiday shopping weekend show that retailers' efforts to lure shoppers during the weak economy are working. Some, such as Walmart Stores Inc. and JCPenney, have been making a stronger push online to better compete with the likes of rival Amazon.com. And major chains such as Macy's, Target and Best Buy extended the traditional start to the shopping season by opening their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving evening instead of the pre-dawn Friday hours of years past.

But the question remains whether retailers' will be able to hold shoppers' attention throughout the remainder of the season, which can account for 25 to 40 percent of a merchant's annual revenue. After all, Americans still are very driven by deep discounting, and they're more conscious of their spending budgets.

Overall, holiday spending is expected to grow by a modest 2.8 percent to about $466 billion, according to the NRF. A fuller picture on spending will come Thursday, when major retailers report their November sales figures. But for now, experts agree that retailers likely will have to continue to discount to get shoppers to spend. "The big question is: How do you close the season?" says Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner at A.T. Kearney's retail practice. "This is a very promotional driven shopper."

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