NEW YORK —
Sales on the day after Thanksgiving fell from those a year earlier, according to one major tracker, the first decline since the recession of 2008, as stores started their ‘‘doorbuster’’ promotions early in the week and opened for business on Thursday evening.
The culprit seems to be less a faltering economy and more a diffusion of holiday shopping to other days and online.
Black Friday ‘‘is certainly not dead,’’ said Matthew Shay, chief executive of the National Retail Federation, a trade group, but ‘‘it’s starting to spread out.’’
For major retailers, Black Friday’s role appears to be changing. This year, stores like Target, Sears, and Toys ‘‘R’’ Us opened late Thanksgiving evening (although not in Massachusetts, because of blue laws), while Walmart started its first doorbuster deals at 8 p.m., drawing shoppers to stores earlier than ever and lessening Friday’s appeal.
While store visits on the Friday after Thanksgiving rose 3.5 percent from last year, to more than 307 million visits, retail sales decreased 1.8 percent, according to the research firm ShopperTrak.
On Thanksgiving, meanwhile, there was almost a 21 percent increase in the number of people making visits to stores or websites in the United States, according to the National Retail Federation.
‘‘The early promotions and early openings on Thursday drew some of the sales that would normally land on Friday into Thursday,’’ said Bill Martin, founder of ShopperTrak. ‘‘What we’re going to start looking at is the ‘Black Weekend,’ a four-day weekend.’’
About 28 percent of people surveyed by the federation who said they were shopping over the weekend started at midnight or earlier on Thanksgiving. In 2009, when major retailers started experimenting with Thanksgiving openings, that figure was just 3 percent.
‘‘You want to be open if they want to go shopping,’’ said Laura Gurski, a partner and global head of A.T. Kearney’s retail practice. But as a result, ‘‘the kickoff of the holiday season is being redefined.’’
One clear winner for the weekend was online shopping. Sales increased 17.4 percent on Thanksgiving, and 20.7 percent the next day, according to IBM, which tracks e-commerce transactions from 500 retailers.
And consumers who were shopping this weekend said that about 40 percent of their dollars were spent online, according to the retail federation’s survey.
The ShopperTrak data showing that visits were up but sales were down on Friday suggested that many people were buying online rather than in stores, Gurski said.
‘‘It’s more a social event to go out shopping on that Friday than where you make your actual purchases,’’ she said, adding that it also depended ‘‘on how enticing the online offer is.’’
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the retail federation said, shoppers increased their average spending to $423 from $398 in the equivalent period a year earlier.
‘‘Now we’re seeing, really, a five-day weekend that starts Thursday and will end tomorrow,’’ said Shay of the federation, referring to Monday.
But there are also signs that shoppers are getting weary of the extension of special shopping days, with Thanksgiving added to a packed schedule of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Mobile Tuesday, and so on.
The federation predicted after a survey earlier this month that 147 million people would shop over the Black Friday weekend, but only 137 million people turned out, according to the federation’s most recent polling. Still, turnout was up 4.6 percent from the period last year.
Though retail researchers and consultants say Thanksgiving openings will probably become more commonplace, some shoppers object to them.
‘‘I don’t like it,’’ said Denny Johnson, 66, who had come to Sam’s Club in Eagan, Minn., on Friday for a 51-inch Samsung TV. ‘‘They’re going to start this on Veterans Day if they keep going.’’
Archie Weatherspoon IV, 29, a probation officer from St. Paul, had come with his wife and two young boys, who munched on McDonald’s hash browns as they awaited a ticket for a Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone.
Weatherspoon had almost called off the plan for the family’s first Black Friday outing after watching a YouTube video of a Thursday night cellphone fight at an out-of-state Walmart. “I don’t want to bring my kids out if it’s going to be that chaotic,’’ he said.
In Upland, Calif., on Friday morning, Toby Taylor, 46, was resting on a bench on a quiet street of small businesses. He said he was not at the mall because ‘‘it’s too crowded. I don’t know if the savings are worth those crowds.’’
Stores opening on Thanksgiving ‘‘bothers me,’’ said Veronica Lynagh, of Columbus, Ohio, as she prepared to shop late last week. ‘‘Last year, I got upset because I had 25 people here for Thanksgiving dinner, and at 8 p.m. the whole family left to wait in line at Best Buy. I thought it was ridiculous. Why would you leave your family to go stand in line and buy things?’’