c.2013 New York Times News Service

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Before most Thanksgiving turkeys even approached the oven Thursday, a small line of tents had formed in front of a Best Buy in Falls Church, Va., their inhabitants waiting for the holiday deals to begin. First in line was William Ignacio, who pitched his tent at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Traditionally, the holiday shopping season kicks off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. But every year, more stores are opening on the holiday itself, sometimes before dawn.

More than 400 people were lined up in 28-degree weather outside a Target in Schaumburg, Ill., just before the store opened at 8 p.m. Thursday.

“My TV from last year is in beautiful, perfect condition, but this one is bigger and better,” said Ruben Calderon, an annual Black Friday shopper who planned to buy a 50-inch LED TV and some Xbox games at Target on Thursday. “In all my years of doing this, I have never seen a deal on a TV that’s this good.”

Holiday season shopping generally accounts for about 20 percent of the retail industry’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. But with many Americans still struggling with stagnant wages, retail executives have warned of a lackluster season.

In a hurry to get to customers first, retailers introduced promotions not just a few hours early, but days and even weeks ahead. Walmart.com kicked off its holiday season Nov. 1.

“There has been a lot of messaging around ‘Don’t wait until Black Friday,’” said Traci Gregorski, a vice president for marketing at Market Track, a retail promotion and pricing analysis firm.

Those who stayed home could easily browse the web.

As of 9 p.m., online sales were up more than 11 percent over Thanksgiving Day sales last year, according to IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark. Mobile traffic increased even more sharply, up more than 31 percent. Smartphones accounted for 24 percent of online traffic, IBM found.

Friday’s discounts, however, were still likely to draw out plenty of shoppers. According to a recent CBS News poll, Black Friday remains the most popular shopping day.

On Thursday, lines inside a Toys “R” Us in Falls Church, Va., shortly after the store opened at 5 p.m. looked like airport checkpoints. And at a Best Buy in Alpharetta, Ga., hundreds of people lined up toward the end of what forecasters said was the area’s coldest Thanksgiving Day in more than a century.