(Adds details from Target, Walmart)
NEW YORK, Nov 23 (Reuters) - U.S. shoppers desperate for deals banged on doors and formed long queues at checkout counters on Black Friday, as a strong economy and rising wages drove a solid start to the holiday shopping season.
Shoppers picked up big ticket items such as TVs, Apple iPads and Watches in-store and online at Target Corp, while phones, toys, gaming consoles and cookware were top sellers at Walmart Inc.
Shortly before 6 a.m. ET on Friday, shoppers were seen banging on the door at a Bath & Body Works in the Waterfront Mall in Pittsburgh, lining up for discounted candles, soaps and lotion, while long lines formed at checkout counters in a Dick's Sporting Goods store in the mall.
But there was little evidence of the delirious shopper frenzy customary of Black Fridays from past years, in other parts of the country, especially the North East, where crowds were thin due to record-cold weather.
Twenty one-year old Columbia computer science graduates Bhavaya Shahi and Ketakee Nimavat pulled an all-nighter outside Macy's Herald Square store in New York hoping to beat long snaking lines that usually forms in front of popular store.
"We heard there were going to be long lines," Shahi said, with bags in her hands and bags hanging on her forearm.
"It's emptier than we thought."
Stores, such as the Macy's in Herald Square, opened doors as early as 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving, but a large chunk of retailers are scheduled to open at 7 a.m on Friday.
Moody's analyst Charlie O'Shea, who was visiting stores in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on Thursday 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.
Large crowds were absent in many locations on Thursday, but it was not as bad as 2015 and 2016 when shoppers largely stayed away from stores on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, according to retail analysts and consultants.
"Traffic is building up and in many places is on par with last year," said Craig Johnson, president of retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners, who was visiting stores in Connecticut on Thanksgiving.
Sarah Perez, a 26-year-old visiting New York City from upstate New York with her husband, did not enjoy the shopping experience at J.C. Penney because of a very long line at the checkout.
"We're never doing it again," Perez said adding she had already done some of her shopping on Amazon before coming out.
Shoppers spent $1.75 billion online by 5 p.m. ET on Thanksgiving, with smartphone sales lifting overall online spending by 28.6 percent from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers.
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 Adobe's data.
Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, kicks off the holiday shopping season in the United States. But with U.S. stores now opening on Thanksgiving evening, the typical rush seen on the morning of Black Friday has split up.
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. That compares with an average annual increase of 3.9 percent over the past five years.
About 38 percent of American consumers plan to shop on Black Friday this year, and six in 10 of those shoppers anticipate making at least half of their holiday purchases on that day, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed last week. (Additional reporting by Melissa Fares, Shannon Stapleton in Long Island and Chriss Swaney in Pittsburgh; Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore; editing by Patrick Graham and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)