People shop at Macy's department store during Black Friday shopping, Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in New York. Black Friday shoppers fought for parking spots and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the mad scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK (AP) — Black Friday enthusiasts woke up before dawn and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls in search of hot deals, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But the ever-growing popularity of online shopping and holiday discounts that started weeks earlier dampened the frenzy. This year, more people got a head start on gift-hunting, lured by deals from retailers trying to compensate for the shorter season.

The shopping season is the shortest since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday in November — the latest possible date it could be.

Shoppers up since the wee hours slept in chairs at Nashville’s Opry Mills mall, known for its outlet stores. Outside, deal-seekers were still fighting for parking spots by midmorning.

Haley Wright left Alabama at 4 a.m. to arrive at the Tennessee mall by 7 a.m. She makes the annual trip because she says the stores offer better deals and a more fun environment than the shops back home.

“I let my husband do the online shopping; I do Black Friday,” she said.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, baked the shorter season into its forecast, but it says the real drivers will be the job market. It forecasts that holiday sales will rise between 3.8% and 4.2%, an increase from the disappointing 2.1% growth in the November and December 2018 period that came well short of the group’s prediction.

NRF expects online and catalog sales, which are included in the total, to increase between 11% and 14% for the holiday period.

Last year’s holiday sales were hurt by turmoil over the White House trade policy with China and a delay of nearly a month in data collection because of a government shutdown.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group Inc., says he doesn't believe a shorter season will affect overall sales, but early discounts will likely diminish Black Friday’s impact. In terms of the busiest day of the year, it will be a toss-up between Black Friday and the last Saturday before Christmas.

"We still have the same amount of money to spend regardless of whether the season is longer or shorter,” he said.

More than half of consumers started their holiday shopping early this year, and nearly a quarter of purchases have already been made, according to the annual survey released by the NRF and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

Kara Lopez and Jeremy Samora arrived at Denver’s Cherry Creek Shopping Center as soon as it opened Friday to snag deals on candles and lotions at Bath & Body Works.

A half-hour later, they sat with their purchases sharing a thermos of hot chocolate, a tradition Lopez started years ago when she had to wait in line for the store to open and the first shoppers inside got gifts like stuffed animals. It’s more relaxed these days, but Lopez likes it that way.

“I like the mall but not when it’s full of people,” she said.

Adobe Analytics predicts a loss of $1 billion in online revenue from a shortened season. Still, it expects online sales will reach $143.7 billion, up 14.1% from last year's holiday season.

Adobe Analytics said Thanksgiving Day set records for online shopping. Consumers spent $4.2 billion on Thanksgiving, a 14.5% increase from the holiday a year ago. Black Friday was on track to hit $7.4 billion.

As online sales surged, some retailers including Costco.com and H&M grappled with brief outages, according to technology company Catchpoint.

Target reported Friday that 1 million more customers used its app to shop Black Friday deals compared with last year. The discounter said customers bought big ticket items like TVs, Apple iPads and Apple Watches.

Walmart worked to ease long lines with technology allowing shoppers to check out with sales associates in the aisles. The retail giant said its most popular deals included TVs, Apple AirPods and “Frozen” toys.

In Europe, though, Black Friday drew a backlash from activists, politicians and even consumers who criticized the U.S. shopping phenomenon as capitalism run amok. Climate demonstrators blocked a shopping mall near Paris and gathered in front of Amazon’s headquarters. Workers at Amazon in Germany went on strike for better pay. Some French lawmakers called for banning Black Friday altogether.

In the U.S., attention Friday turned to malls, which are fighting for traffic as online shopping grows.

At Mall of America, the country’s largest shopping mall, crowds were expected to exceed the 240,000 count on Black Friday from a year ago, said Jill Renslow, senior vice president at the Bloomington, Minnesota-based mall.

Maria Mainville, a spokesman at Taubman Centers, which operates a little over 20 malls in the U.S., says that its centers reported strong customer traffic since earlier this week. That's different from last year when Black Friday and Thanksgiving drew the majority of the crowds for the period.

At some malls, some shoppers were surprised at the relatively thin crowds.

Two Bath & Body Works saleswomen wearing reindeer antler headbands shouted about promotions at a trickle of shoppers walking through Newport Centre in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“It looks empty for Black Friday,” said Latoya Robinson, a student who lives in New York and planned to stop by Forever 21 and Macy’s to shop for herself.

In Kansas, Kassi Adams and her husband drove 50 miles (80 kilometers) to Town East Mall in Wichita, even though the couple were nearly done with their holiday shopping. They were surprised to see how few people were there and even boasted about getting a choice parking spot.

“There is really not much of a crowd to fight,” she said.

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AP writers Joseph Pisani in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, Roxana Hegeman in Wichita, Kansas, Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this story.

Customers shop at a Kohl's store in Colma, Calif., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jefrey Wojtisek sits on the floor as he awaits for the Apple store to open their doors on Black Friday at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pa. Friday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Customers shop at a Kohl's store in Colma, Calif., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Tractor Supply Company clerk Alex Ehasz, center,  helps customer Scott Campbell at the Ashtabula Township, Ohio, store around 6 a.m. on Friday Nov.  29, 2019.  The 2019 holiday season will be a good measure of the U.S. economy’s health.   (Warren Dillaway /The Star-Beacon via AP)
Jorge and Jo Ann Delgadillo examine a Home Depot coupon insert for the Black Friday deals while they wait the final half hour before the store opens at 6 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29, 2019, in Brownsville, Texas. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP)
Customers shop at a Kohl's store in Colma, Calif., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Shoppers check out the Black Friday sales at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Va., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)
Customers walk outside of a Kohl's store in Colma, Calif., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Savannah Dales, 16, greets Black Friday shoppers while holding a sale sign for Hot Topic at Valley View Mall in Roanoke, Va., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)
A shopper leaves Macy's in Boston, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Shoppers squeeze through the doors at Belks at Hamilton Place as Black Friday shopping kicked off early  Friday, Nov. 29, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn. (Robin Rudd/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP)
Shoppers makes their way through the aisle at a Target store in Frisco, Texas, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicks off the start of the holiday shopping season. But with it will be the shortest season since 2013 because Thanksgiving fell on the fourth Thursday in November, the latest possible date it could be. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
People wait in the cold outside a Best Buy store for it to open for a Black Friday sale Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019, in Overland Park, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A shopper leaves Macy's department store with bags in both hands during Black Friday shopping, Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in New York. Black Friday shoppers fought for parking spots and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the mad scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
A shopper carries a crockpot during Target's Black Friday sale, Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in the Borough of New York. The National Retail Federation, the nation's largest retail trade group, forecasts that holiday sales will rise from the disappointing growth in the November and December 2018. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
People walk by a Black Friday promotional at Cookie's department store Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in the Brooklyn Borough of New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
A crowd watches building lights come on as fireworks light up the sky during the Plaza Lighting Ceremony in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. The Country Club Plaza is a famous shopping district in Kansas City. This is the 90th year of the Plaza lights. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
An employee posts discount signs for shoppers at Macy's department store during Black Friday shopping, Friday Nov. 29, 2019, in New York. Black Friday shoppers fought for parking spots and traveled cross-state to their favorite malls, kicking off a shortened shopping season that intensified the mad scramble between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Shoppers leave Macy's in Boston, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Kinsey McNary, left, shops with her mother Darci McNary a Target store in Frisco, Texas, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Black Friday once again kicked off the start of the holiday shopping season. (AP Photo/LM Otero)