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How low did they go? Black Friday bargains were bigger, on average, last year

  • Retailers with less-generous discounts this year include Best Buy, J.C. Penney and Target.
  • Sears and Wal-Mart discounted their products more, 48 percent and 45 percent respectively.
  • The biggest jump in discounts was seen in kids' outerwear.

Black Friday circular discounts came in slightly less than last year, with retailers offering 44 percent off on average, compared with 45 percent last year, according to Market Track.

Retailers with less-steep discounts this year include Best Buy, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Target.

Discounts are an important means of bringing shoppers into stores, but they can also be a sign of distress. Too heavily discounting during the holiday season can be a sign that a retailer is having a hard time getting rid of inventory. Doing so can also severely eat into profits.

Retailers have sought to introduce other attractions to bring shoppers to stores, such as pop-up shops, partnerships and even parties. They are boosted by a strong economy and consumer confidence that has so far seemed to drive an uplift in holiday spending.

Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette told CNBC on Black Friday morning the holiday selling season is off to a "strong start" and is less promotional than last year.

Still, not all retailers are discounting less. Sears, which is tight on cash, has discounted its products 48 percent this year compared with 45 percent last year. The retailer had already put the entire store on sale ahead of Black Friday.

Wal-Mart, meanwhile, discounted its products by an average of 41 percent this year, compared with 39 percent last year.

Across all categories, the steepest discounts compared with last year were in kids' outerwear (28 percent steeper) and entertainment (10 percent steeper).

Women's apparel and outerwear stayed roughly the same. The industry is under pressure as shoppers spend more on technology and services.

Toys and games discounts were 9 percent less than last year, despite notable industry pressures like Toys R Us' bankruptcy filing.

The National Retail Federation has forecast total holiday retail sales to climb 3.6 to 4 percent in 2017. This year, Christmas comes 32 days after Thanksgiving, giving shoppers an extra weekend day to complete their shopping.

Retail stocks posted gains on Friday. Shares of Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Nordstrom all closed up less than 1 percent, while Kohl's gained more than 1 percent, and Macy's added more than 2 percent.

Watch: Black Friday winners and losers