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Long live Black Friday! NRF expects bigger crowds

Bargain-hungry shoppers are planning to hit the stores en force over Black Friday weekend.

According to a survey released by the National Retail Federation on Thursday, 58.7 percent of shoppers, or 135.8 million people, said they "definitely will" or "may" shop on Thanksgiving, Black Friday or the two days that follow.

While the trade group's findings fall roughly in line with last year's prediction, when 61.1 percent said they would shop over that four-day period, it's more than the 55 percent, or 133.7 million people, who said they actually did.

Black Friday sale signs at a retail store in New York.
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
Black Friday sale signs at a retail store in New York.

The results come as consumers overall are placing less of an emphasis on Black Friday, as retailers push deals earlier in the season.

"The importance of Thanksgiving weekend to both retailers and consumers will never change. However, retailers have already given consumers several good reasons to start their holiday shopping earlier," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said.

"We suspect early holiday shoppers could still be on the fence about whether or not to try their hand at finding online and in-store deals Thanksgiving weekend."

Despite controversy over Thanksgiving Day openings, the survey found that more people plan to shop that day than last year — at the expense of Black Friday. According to NRF, 22.3 percent of respondents plan to shop on Thanksgiving Day, compared to 18.3 percent last year.

Still, Black Friday remains the most popular day, with 73.5 percent indicating they would shop that day. That's down from 68.2 percent last year.

According to NRF, nearly 60 percent of holiday shoppers had already started making purchases by Nov. 10. Still, there is some evidence that consumers are playing chicken with retailers and holding out for the possibility of better deals.

A separate study released by A.T. Kearney on Thursday found that only 21 percent of shoppers planned to start their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving.

It does appear, however, that some shoppers had been holding out for Black Friday deals, particularly in the big-ticket categories for which the shopping extravaganza has become known.

During its third-quarter earnings call, Best Buy on Thursday said consumer electronics sales trends got "progressively worse" throughout the quarter, something it attributed to pent-up demand from shoppers waiting for Black Friday deals.

CFO Sharon McCollam said there was a "significant improvement" in the first week of November, corresponding with early Black Friday promotions.

Last year, the National Retail Federation's Black Friday data became the subject of much scrutiny, when the trade group said sales from that weekend fell 11 percent.

The NRF has said it expects overall holiday sales will increase 3.7 percent this year.

Thursday's NRF survey results were based on a poll of 7,172 shoppers between Nov. 3 and Nov. 10. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 percentage points. The A.T. Kearney survey was taken on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, with 1,919 people participating.