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Black Friday shoppers looking for deals to start holiday season

Click to play video 'How to get the best Black Friday deals' How to get the best Black Friday deals
WATCH ABOVE: Robert Levy of the Shopper Army shows you how to find the best deals this Black Friday – Nov 24, 2016

NEW YORK – Stores open their doors Friday for what is still one of the busiest days of the year, even as the start of the holiday season edges ever earlier.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, used to launch the holiday season, but the competition to grab customers first is keen. Stores like Macy’s, Walmart, Target and more were open Thursday evening in what they hope will be a new holiday tradition.

Bree Colley, 30, said she plans to go to Columbia Mall in Missouri on Friday with her mom in their yearly tradition. She and her husband were out after Thanksgiving dinner as well, driving from Harrisburg, Missouri, to pick up a 55-inch television a friend bought for them during a deal at Walmart.

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Colley said the 55-inch television, which was about $200 cheaper than its original $500 price tag, was sold out online earlier Thursday. But a friend was first in line for the deal and bought one for her.

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In addition to seeking bargains on TVs, items that drew crowds included cellphones and Hatchimals – eggs with a small, animated animal inside that hatch when given attention.

Many stores are offering the same deals as in previous years, like $19.99 boots that remain a big attraction, cashmere sweaters, and sheets.

Tanya Jordan planned to start shopping for herself Friday after buying for others Thursday night. She was looking for a big-screen TV at the Best Buy store in Howell Township, New Jersey. She also planned to browse the camera department, hoping to upgrade her current equipment if she could find the right deal.

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“I buy a lot of stuff online, but when it comes to technology, I want to see and feel what I’m buying,” the 25-year-old Jackson Township resident said.

Jackie Tate, a nurse from Manhattan, said that in the past she’d get up in the wee hours to shop the deals on Black Friday. At Macy’s in New York on Thursday night, she said she will go shopping Friday but her enthusiasm has waned.

“I do most everything online now,” Tate said.

This weekend is crucial to set the tone for the holiday season. Around 137 million people plan to or are considering doing their shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. That includes online and store shopping. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, vies with the Saturday before Christmas as the busiest shopping day of the year.

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The NRF, the nation’s largest retail group, expects holiday sales to rise 3.6 per cent for November and December, better than the 3 per cent growth seen for those months last year. That excludes car sales, gas and restaurant receipts but includes online spending and other non-store sales such as catalogue spending.

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Associated Press writers Bruce Shipkowski in Howell, New Jersey, and Summer Ballentine in Columbia, Missouri, contributed to this report.