For many major chains, the strategy was motivated by the understanding that despite the rise in consumer spending recently, many Americans are still hampered by tight budgets.
"Shoppers have learned lessons from the recession and are still value-conscious," said Tom Aiello, a spokesman at Sears, which opened on Thanksgiving Day for the first time ever so people could start shopping early.
"What we have to do is give them those great values earlier and continue those throughout the holidays," he said. "People still want to have a good Christmas. But they need some help in terms of making those purchases."
At the malls Friday, many consumers said they were still feeling the effects of the recession and were simply not ready to return to previous levels of conspicuous consumption.
While shopping with family members at the Macy's at Westfield Century City, Gabriela Finn, a 48-year-old teacher from Phoenix, said she was not convinced that the economy was improving and would spend cautiously this Christmas.
"Even though I received a raise for this school year," she said, "I don't want to go ahead and just spend all my money because we don't know what the future holds."
Times staff writers Nate Jackson, Shan Li, Rick Rojas, Nardine Saad and Abby Sewell contributed to this report.