"Black Friday," the unofficial start of the US holiday shopping season, announced itself with the annual day-after-Thanksgiving deluge of online promotions and early store openings.
But industry experts have been cautious about this year's prospects, in light of price pressures that have exacerbated concerns about an oversupply of goods.
"Supply shortages was yesterday's problem," said Neil Saunders, managing director for GlobalData Retail, a consultancy. "Today's problem is having too much stuff."
A year ago, retailers faced product shortfalls in the wake of shipping backlogs and factory closures related to Covid-19. To avert a repeat, the industry front-loaded its holiday imports this year, leaving it vulnerable to oversupply at a time when consumers are cutting back.
Saunders said retailers have made progress in reducing excess inventories, but oversupply will mean deep discounts in many categories, including electronics, home improvement and apparel.
US shoppers have remained resilient throughout the pandemic, often spending more than expected even when consumer sentiment surveys suggest they are in a gloomy mood.
Leading forecasts from Deloitte and the National Retail Federation project a single-digit percentage rise in sales, but this is unlikely to exceed the inflation rate.
Adobe has forecast an overall holiday sales increase of 2.5 percent, less than a third of the level from last year. Besides inflation, Adobe cited higher Federal Reserve interest rates and an uptick in brick-and-mortar shopping as factors.
European countries like Britain and France have been marking Black Friday for a few years now too, but with soaring inflation, merchants there face a similar dilemma.
"Retailers are desperate for some spending cheer but the worry is that it could turn out to be more of a Bleak Friday," said Hargreaves Lansdown analyst Susannah Streeter.
Consumers like Charmaine Taylor, who checks airline websites frequently, are staying vigilant.
Taylor, who works in child care, has had her travel plans thwarted due to exorbitant plane ticket prices -- and she is unsure of how much she can spend on family this year.
"I'm trying to give them some little gifts," she said at a park in Harlem earlier this week. "I don't know if I'll be able to. Inflation is hitting pretty hard."