Preliminary sales data from ShopperTrak RCT Corp. show shoppers spent $10.66 billion when they hit the malls on the day after Thanksgiving - only 0.5 percent more than last year.
At the same time, other research showed fresh signs of much stronger online sales during the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, which may mean more consumers shopped from home.
Still, more than a year after the economy's collapse began rattling shoppers, industry observers said Friday's shopping sprees offered a strong start to the holiday season as large crowds of shoppers snatched up early morning deals.
"I know what they want, but I've been looking for a deal to make sure I get a good price," Jude Leeper, 49, of Hanover, Pa., said as she shopped for gifts for family members Friday at a Maryland mall. "I'm going to buy that gift that I know is going to get used, not stuffed in a closet."
The traditional shopping spree - dubbed Black Friday because it often was the day when a surge of shoppers helped stores break into profitability for the full year - has marked the kickoff of holiday shopping for many consumers. But its importance has faded in recent years as merchants started hawking the deep sales and expanded hours usually reserved for that day well in advance.
Still, the day is often used as an important barometer of people's willingness to spend during the holidays - vital weeks for merchants nationwide.
This year, many of the in-store deals were also available online, causing some Web sites to overload as pajama-clad shoppers tried to get deals without waiting in long lines in the cold.
Web marketing analyst Coremetrics said its data showed the average amount online shoppers spent on Black Friday rose 35 percent as shoppers spent roughly $170.19 per order - up from $126.04 last year.
The San Mateo, Calif. company also said Web shoppers also bought more items with each purchase.
Shop-by-television sales were also strong at the TV shopping network QVC, which said its Black Friday sales totaled $32 million - up almost 60 percent from last year, thanks to its first-ever push to promote its post-Thanksgiving deals.
Executives at J.C. Penney Co. said Saturday that their day after Thanksgiving business in stores was "strong" nationwide as shoppers snatched up doorbusters.
However, officials at the department store chain, which did not provide specific data about this year's business compared with last year, also cautioned that one weekend's performance wasn't enough to predict how the rest of the holiday season would fare.
Saturday's in-store figures were compiled by ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a Chicago research firm that tracks sales at more than 50,000 stores.