This story was reported by correspondents Taryn Luna, Emily Overholt, and Sarah Shemkus, and Erin Ailworth of the Globe staff. It was written by Luna.
Jin Lao was more than happy to spend 31 hours — many of them in the freezing cold — standing outside the Target at Boston’s South Bay Center for a great deal on a new television when the doors opened at 1 a.m. Friday.
Lao, 24, of Lynn, spent Thanksgiving Day in the line, wrapped in five layers of clothing and carrying a portable phone charger. His mother stopped by with deliveries of turkey, collard greens, and mac and cheese. By very early Friday morning, still in the dark of night, Lao walked into the store and bought one of the 50-inch Element HDTVs in limited supply for $229.
“If there’s a bigger TV next year, I’ll come back again,” he said.
Lao was among the thousands of customers who hit the malls and department stores on Black Friday, looking for big discounts on a day that has long been considered the official kickoff of the holiday shopping season.
Analysts say Massachusetts retailers are depending more than ever on highly motivated shoppers like Lao to propel their sales on Black Friday, although activity seemed relatively tame. One reason could be that the starting line for the holiday shopping season has become increasingly blurred, as scores of online sellers offered doorbuster-like deals in early November. An unusually short Christmas season this year — with six fewer shopping days than last year — also prompted retailers to roll out their deals early.
In Massachusetts, blue laws prohibit stores from opening on Thanksgiving but many retailers across the country opened before the turkey got cold Thursday.
“Black Friday has been losing steam for some time,” said Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge. “It is very unique because it only really touches those diehard sale shoppers on Thanksgiving weekend.”
The lines that formed outside Targets, Best Buys, and Walmarts in Massachusetts before 1 a.m. openings were calm and relatively subdued, stretching to a few hundred shoppers in South Bay and other areas to as few as 50 in Natick.
Analysts agree that Black Friday is still a successful day for brick-and-mortar stores, and some of the nation’s largest retailers crowed about business Friday. Walmart Stores Inc. said it recorded the most successful Black Friday in its history.
Many retailers managed to connect with such diehard shoppers as Lao and Boston University student Dorothy Ovalles in the earliest hours of the day Friday.
Ovalles, 21, hit the Cambridgeside Galleria shortly after midnight. She shopped until 6 a.m. and then went to Copley Place, where she carried outbags from Lord & Taylor, Gap, Old Navy, and H&M. Despite the shopping marathon, she said she does not get too “crazy.”
Hours after the sun came up, couches that were scattered around the Burlington Mall were mostly filled with sleepy shoppers surrounded by their purchases.
Jill Arthur, 54, found a place to rest on the floor as she waited for her sister-in-law to finish browsing in Talbots. Arthur and her daughter come from West Windsor, Vt., every year to shop with family. They started early but decided not to join the very first round of bargain-hunters.
“Some sales are nice, but we don’t come for the big doorbusters,” Arthur said. “I can’t handle the crowds.”
The atmosphere was relaxed and casual by early afternoon at Legacy Place, an outdoor shopping mall in Dedham. Retailers reported a “steady” stream of shoppers.
Laurel Sibert, a spokeswoman for the mall, said many shoppers have been starting earlier this season. “The fact that retailers spread it out this year with more 1 a.m. openings kind of separated the different shoppers,” she said. “The diehards got out, then there’s the morning lull.”
But the inconvenience of packed parking lots and long lines has caused some to turn entirely to online shopping. The National Retail Federation expects Internet retail activity to increase by as much as 15 percent this year, compared with the 3.9 percent predicted jump in overall holiday sales.
Caeleigh Stuart, 28, of Everett, said she shops online not only to avoid the lines but because she can find a greater assortment of goods and more unique personalized items.
“At a mall you only have so many items,” Stuart said. “There’s often one store for the type of thing you’re looking for, and if it’s not there, you’re out of luck.”
She picked up a home brewing kit for a friend at redenvelope.com and a gift card at flash-sale site ideeli.com this week.
Akamai Technologies Inc., a Cambridge company that helps retailers deliver online content, said peak Internet shopping activity on Thanksgiving Day topped last year’s high on Cyber Monday, four days after the holiday, when online sales normally soar, thanks to big discounts. The company tracked 9.2 million page views a minute at 10 p.m. Thursday, up from a peak of 8.5 million on the Monday following Thanksgiving last year.
Simple convenience was behind the online traffic spike over the holiday, said Steve Davis, chief executive of online retailer Rue La La of Boston.
“Who would want to deal with these crowds on Thursday and interrupt Thanksgiving when you can shop online from home?” he said. “You have a much bigger assortment online. You can find better pricing online. It’s easier to comparison-shop and you can find better deals.”
But some shoppers still want to hold a product in their hands and look it over before they buy.
Joan Charles, a nursing assistant from Dorchester, and her sister started shopping at the South Shore Plaza at 5 a.m. Friday and took a breather at a Metro PCS “recharging lounge,” a pile of bags from Macy’s, Chico’s, Express, and Forever 21 sprawled beside her.
Charles, 57, said she set a limit for herself and only brought $300 in cash to spend, but will probably end up laying down about $800 for gifts this year, mostly purchased in stores.
“I don’t like to shop online,” she said. “I like to see it, feel it.”
Taryn Luna can be reached at email@example.com.