The typically high-spending end-of-year US Christmas season is predicted to be a second consecutive low for retailers this year, providing scant optimism for the economy.

Black Friday, the day after Thursday's national Thanksgiving holiday, is known as the busiest annual shopping day, but this year many shops offered greater than usual discounts to lure consumers.

"The deals are actually better than last year, more than 50 per cent off," Varere Jordan, a 42-year-old conductor on New York City's subway trains, said. Jordan rose at 5am to be an early arrival at stores and bought a flat-screen TV.

The National Retail Federation predicted that about 57 million people would shop on Black Friday, with another 77 million poised to venture out if they heard that there were good deals.

The health of the retail sector is seen as a crucial indicator for America's still shaky economy, which is based in the main on consumer spending.

Early signs from Black Friday show that consumers spent only half a percentage point more this year than in 2008. Last year was the worst holiday shopping season in nearly four decades.

Added to that unemployment is up to 10.2 per cent this year from 6.6 per cent last year, further harming the chances of the period bolstering annual consumer sales.

Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane reports.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies