Shoppers enter the Herald Square Subway station after early morning Black Friday Shopping in New York, Nov. 27, 2015.
Shoppers enter the Herald Square Subway station after early morning Black Friday Shopping in New York, Nov. 27, 2015.

This year, Black Friday seemed to be more of a gray day.

The day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is sometimes the biggest shopping day of the year and is considered the official start of the holiday buying season.

But stores around the country Friday had plenty of parking, orderly lines and modest traffic. It almost looked like a normal shopping day. And not every shopper was happy about that.
In Denver, for instance, Susan Montoya had nearly an entire Kmart to herself. She halfheartedly flipped through a rack of girls' holiday party dresses and looked down the store's empty aisles.

"There's no one out here!'' she said. "This is sad.''

Black Friday for decades was a rite of passage for U.S. shoppers. Many would spend Thanksgiving evening combing through circulars to plot their shopping route for the next day based on the deals they hoped to snag. But in recent years, retailers have tried to capture holiday sales earlier and earlier.

They've started offering mega-discounts in stores and online earlier instead of waiting until Black Friday. And in the last few years, they've opened locations on Thanksgiving Day, a once-sacred holiday from retail.

According to the National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, nearly 60 percent of shoppers had already started holiday buying by November 10.

Early numbers weren't out yet, but the retail group expected about 30 million people shopped on Thanksgiving and 99.7 million on Black Friday. It also expected about 135.8 million people to be shopping during the four-day weekend, compared with 133.7 million last year.

2015 is the first year that NRF asked about plans to shop on Cyber Monday.  Nearly 80 percent of this year’s holiday shoppers, or about 183.8 million people, plan to shop on Cyber Monday, according to the survey results.
The group estimated that overall sales for November and December would rise 3.7 percent to $630.5 billion compared with last year.

Judging from the crowds so far, though, the shopper numbers could be hard to come by. "The frenzy and traffic levels were subdued,'' said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy.