Johnson explains that although the retailer may have invented modern shopping in 1950, it has lost its way over the last six years. Its hardline products are doing fairly well, but its softline apparel and home products are still very much struggling.

"Sears store have been underinvested for many years now," Johnson explains. "Unfortunately it shows, and that's why it has lost market share to other retailers like Lowe's ( LOW) and Home Depot ( HD)." He notes that JCPenney's traffic was mixed in the morning, while Best Buy and Walmart were very crowded.

Teen retailers, especially Hollister, did particularly well in terms of customer traffic on Black Friday, says Christine Chen, a retail analyst at Needham & Co. "For the first time they are actually running specials," she says.

Hollister, operated by Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF), offered "buy one, get one 50% off" for tops, and "spend $75 and get a $25 gift card" deals.

Every Black Friday is a mob scene at retailers, but the outpouring of crowds as big as the one she saw at Hollister was jaw-dropping for Chen. She notes that customers were literally wrapped around the checkout counters and the dressing rooms were packed. And although teenagers may get up a little later to go shopping, the shopping definitely picked up quickly at Hollister by late morning.

"Black Friday is really about the promos, so those who have limited-time promotions seems to be driving the most traffic because there is a call for urgency," said Chen.

Women's retailers like Ann Taylor ( ANN) were also offering deals -- 40% off on the whole store -- but weren't generating quite as many crowds as teen retailers. J.Crew ( JCG) wasn't busy at all, not because its business isn't doing well, but because it wasn't offering Black Friday specials, Chen explains.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York

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