BLACK FRIDAY: Gadgets among Wal-Mart best-sellers

The holiday shopping season kicked off much earlier this year, as at least a dozen national retail chains from Macy's to Gap to Target opened their stores on Thanksgiving Day. The sales continued through Friday. Wal-Mart says tech gadgets were among popular items.

The day after Thanksgiving, called Black Friday, is typically the biggest shopping day of the year. For a decade, it had been considered the official start of the holiday buying season. But in the past few years, retailers have pushed opening times into Thanksgiving night. They've also pushed up discounting that used to be reserved for Black Friday into early November, which has led retail experts to question whether the Thanksgiving openings will steal some of Black Friday's thunder.

The holiday openings came despite threatened protests from workers' rights groups, which are opposed to employees working on the holiday instead of spending the day with family.

Overall, the National Retail Federation expects retail sales to be up 4 percent to $602 billion during the last two months of the year. That's higher than last year's 3.5 percent growth, but below the 6 percent pace seen before the recession.

Analysts expect sales to be generated at the expense of profits, as retailers will likely have to do more discounting to get people into stores.

Here's how the start of the holiday shopping season is playing out. All times are ET.

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Friday, 6:30 a.m.: Tech gadgets among best-sellers at Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said that best sellers for its Thanksgiving sale included big-screen TVs, Apple's iPad Minis, laptops, Microsoft's Xbox One, Sony's PlayStation 4 and the game "Call of Duty: Ghosts."

The world's largest retailer said that customers also bought 2.8 million towels, 300,000 bicycles and 1.9 million dolls.

Wal-Mart started its deals at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving, two hours earlier than last year. The retailer said 1 million customers took advantage of its one-hour guarantee program, which allows shoppers who are inside a Wal-Mart store within one hour of a doorbuster sales event to buy that product and either take it home that day or by Christmas. That program started a year ago with three items and was expanded to 21 this year.

For the first time this year, customers were offered wristbands for popular products, allowing them to shop while they waited for deals.

- Anne D'Innocenzio, AP Retail Writer, New York

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- Friday, 5:45 a.m.: Don't think big store chains are conceding to Amazon. AP's Mae Anderson and Anne D'Innocenzio take a look.

Amazon has managed to attract customers from big store chains such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy with low prices and convenient shipping. Now, stores are fighting to get customers back.

Stores are doing such things as matching the lower prices on Amazon and offering the same discounts in stores as on their websites. For its part, Amazon.com Inc. is giving customers the option to pick up items at physical locations and adding Sunday delivery.

There's a lot at stake for both sides. Amazon has built a following, but wants to grow its business around the world. Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar retailers struggle to keep shoppers from using their stores as showrooms to test out and try on items before buying them for less on Amazon.

The holiday season ups the ante. Both online and brick-and-mortar retailers can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue in November and December. And this year, they're competing for the growing number of shoppers who are as comfortable buying online as in stores.

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