Just as Chinese shoppers put up record numbers earlier this month during Alibaba's 'Singles Day' sale extravaganza (beating the previous year's record in dollar terms despite a 10% slump in the yuan), US consumers are expected to spend record sums on Black Friday - and throughout the holiday shopping season - as after several years of lackluster holiday shopping figures.

As of 7 am Friday morning, Black Friday online sales had already surpassed the $645 million mark as millions of Americans had yet to regain consciousness after falling asleep Thursday night in a turkey-and-stuffing induced haze.

As of 5 pm ET,  Thanksgiving Day online sales had surpassed $1.75 billion, with the figure expected to hit a record $3.7 billion, up by 29% from last year, according to Adobe Systems.

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All told, Black Friday sales are expected to hit $24 billion (excluding cars, gas and restaurants), with that total climbing to about $60 billion through Sunday, according to data from consultancy Customer Growth Partners cited by Reuters.

Scenes of chaos as overeager shoppers rush to snap up the best deals have become a hallmark of Black Friday, and this year, even with its record low temperatures, was no exception.

#blackfriday yoh😆 pic.twitter.com/cHllr0PuPU

— Gun City Beats (@GunCity_Beats) November 23, 2018

As record-low temperatures made life difficult for people across the North East, shoppers still turned out at 5 pm Thanksgiving eve to get a jump on their holiday shopping in what has become the fastest-growing sales day of the holiday season. Consumer tech sales helped fuel the buying frenzy (even as sales of smartphones have peaked more broadly), with Adobe Systems tabulating a nearly 30% rise in smartphone purchases on Thanksgiving Day, compared with last year. 

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Eager to boost their sales figures, e-commerce giants offered shipping incentives to draw more shoppers online. Amazon is offering free two-day shipping on hundreds of thousands of items through Dec. 22, while Walmart Inc. is offering free two-day shipping on orders worth a minimum of $35.

"Thanksgiving is on track to be a blowout day...fastest growing day that we have ever seen in terms of major shopping holidays online," said Taylor Schreiner, director at Adobe Digital Insights, the research arm of Adobe Systems.

And even as Thanksgiving Day sales slowed slightly from last year, one Moody's analyst said this isn't indicative of shopper appetite throughout the season. And while crowds were small in some areas on Thanksgiving, they were still larger than 2015 and 2016, two of the weakest years for holiday sales since the crisis.

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Moody's analyst Charlie O'Shea, who was visiting stores in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, said a slower start at stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday was increasingly not indicative of shopper appetite during the season. "The season is expected to be strong and all signs when it comes to consumer sentiment point to that," he said.

According to Reuters, shoppers in San Francisco led the country in terms of number of transactions.

Consumers in San Francisco led the rest of the country with over 2.3 million online transactions, followed by over 954,000 in New York City, more than 415,000 in Dallas and 389,000 in Houston by 10.30 pm ET, according to payments processor First Data Corp, which collects data from about 1 million U.S. merchants.

Electronics retailers such as Best Buy Co Inc saw the most number of transactions followed by department stores such as Macy’s Inc, according to the data.

The National Retail Federation forecast U.S. holiday retail sales in November and December will increase between 4.3 and 4.8 percent over 2017 for a total of $717.45 billion to $720.89 billion, higher than the 3.9% average annual growth over the past 5 years. But some consulting firms put that figure even higher, as record-low unemployment and rising wages fuel consumer spending. Customer Growth Partners sees total holiday retail sales climbing 5.1% from last year, while Deloitte predicts that November and December will see as much as 5.6% growth.

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Amazingly, record low temperatures across the North East didn't dampen consumers' willingness to line up outside stores at 5 pm on Thanksgiving. At one Target in suburban New York, Bloomberg reported that crowds were roughly the same size as last year. Once doors opened, consumers made a beeline to the consumer electronics section, where Apple products and Playstation 4s flew off the shelves.

At the newly-remodeled Target in Westbury, New York, the crowds were largely the same size as last year, although cold weather gripping the Northeast kept many in their cars until the store opened at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

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Once Target’s doors opened, early birds went straight to the electronics department, where the Apple iPad Mini 4 ($250) and Sony PlayStation 4 Spider-Man bundle ($199) were hot sellers. "We’re running low on them," store manager Rob Stermann said by phone, two hours after the store opened.

Three-foot-high plush teddy bears and dogs on sale for $10 went quickly as well, he said. Shoppers also snatched up sheets, blankets and other basic home goods, along with small kitchen appliances like Instant Pot six-quart pressure cookers.

Retailers have been bracing for the sales onslaught by stocking up on inventory. Ports across the US have reported record shipments (though some of this volume is believed to have been inspired by the ongoing US-China trade war).

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Before the season officially began, industry analysts expected the migration toward shopping online to continue this year, with roughly 55% of consumers saying they planned to shop online, rivaling the number who said they planned to shop at a department store (courtesy of Statista).

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And as the trend of opening stores at 5 pm on Thanksgiving Day has become a tradition, data show we can blame the millennials

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(Courtesy of Statista)

The pickup in online shopping this year started early in the season as traffic soared on several top retailers' e-commerce platforms.

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US shoppers are expected to spend as much as $701 billion this holiday season, driven largely by purchases of consumer electronics and e-commerce platforms. That figure that has been widely touted by retailers like Target, whose CEO said in a recent interview that this holiday shopping season could be the best in his nearly 40 year career. Despite Black Friday's reputation as the biggest shopping day of the year in the US, CGP expects sales to be even higher on Dec. 22, the Saturday before Christmas, where sales are projected to hit $26 billion in a single day.

All of this spending suggests that maybe there is some truth to "soft" indicators like UMich Consumer Confidence, which recently soared to 18-year-highs as what's looking like one of the best years for the US economy in recent memory draws to a close.