(Recasts, adds quotes from store employees, consultants, and shoppers)
By Melissa Fares and Nandita Bose
NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - The frenzy associated with Black Friday shopping was missing this year as U.S. retailers offered earlier discounts and more consumers shopped online, though spot checks around the country showed traffic picked up after a sluggish morning.
“It’s slow now because we had a big, big rush last night,” said Target electronics salesman Evan Houser, 22, in Chicago.
Black Friday remains important for holiday shopping but its relevance is fading amid early promotions, with six fewer sales days between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That has pulled spending forward. More than half of consumers polled by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in the first week of November had begun making purchases.
"We've seen many merchants start their promotions pretty much right after the trick-or-treaters have gone to bed," said Lauren Bitar, head of retail consulting at analytics firm RetailNext.
Visits to retailers showed more shoppers after a sluggish start Friday - but frantic crowds were nowhere to be seen.
"We tend to have more deals in-store so people come in rather than go online ... the only problem today is we didn’t expect how slow it would be," said Mariah Berry, 22, a trainee supervisor at a Chicago Uniqlo.
While store traffic still remains an important indicator, a lot of Black Friday shopping now happens online. Adobe Analytics, which measures transactions from 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, estimates $7.5 billion in online sales for Black Friday, up 20.5% year-over-year.
U.S. online sales on Thanksgiving Day jumped 17% to $4.1 billion, according to Salesforce. Global online revenue rose ever faster.
Walmart Inc, Target Corp, Costco Wholesale Corp and Best Buy Co Inc have bulked up their online presence, deliveries and in-store pickups.
Some shoppers worried that tariffs on Chinese imports would make holiday shopping more expensive, though many large retailers have not raised prices to protect margins.
"There were definitely some concerns about prices due to what we see in the news about the trade war, but I haven't seen the impact yet," said Jay Smith, 28, who was shopping for clothes and toys at a Macy's in Pentagon City, Virginia.
To keep foot traffic flowing, retailers at Hudson Yards in New York are offering "doorbuster" deals, said Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research. At Tapestry's Coach, a $300 handbag was $99 until noon.
Other shoppers were skeptical about how good the deals really are.
"I will come to the mall, look at prices and go back and check them online," said Dick Doyle, 76, who was at a Modell's Sporting Goods in Virginia, while his wife was next door at Nordstrom Rack.
Reporting by Melissa Fares in New York, Nandita Bose in Washington, Richa Naidu in Chicago and Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Sweta Singh, Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Nick Zieminski