Retailers are expect to attempt to draw in shoppers online by promoting deals in a record number of promotional emails, said Responsys, a California-based marketing software company that assists retailers such as Brooks Brothers, Lands' End, LEGO, and Under Armour ( UA).

Promotional emails up sharply
"This year an amazing 81% of major retailers sent at least one promotional email to their subscribers on Black Friday, making it the busiest promotional email day on record for the time being," said Chad White, research director for Responsys. "That's up from 69% last year. Black Friday was also preceded by the busiest Thanksgiving Day ever, with 75% of retailers sending email. That's up from 60% in 2010 and just 45% in 2009."

"With email volume up 19% year-over-year last week, retailers are making email central to their marketing efforts this holiday season," he said.

After seeing this kind of record email volume, White expects promotional email volume to easily set a new all-time record on Cyber Monday, which has been the busiest email-marketing day of the year for the past four consecutive years.

One reason for this is the growth of the online business. According to research from Deloitte, online has become the No. 1 shopping destination, with almost half of consumers surveyed saying they will most likely shop for gifts online this holiday season -- an increase of 13% from last year.

Still the main concern is what happens next? If you look at the shopping pattern, consumers were certainly being driven by the discounts, begging the question: Will consumer spending dry up when the big bargains of Thanksgiving weekend end?

Consumers have been conditioned to expect big discounts over the holiday weekend.

Trained to shop deals
"Retailers are really figuring out how to juice it for that entire weekend to get people in the stores and online," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market researcher NPD Group. "Basically, the consumers said give us the extra hours and deals and we'll come."

But Cohen's worried that the strong Black Friday numbers may overstate the strength of the holiday season.

"We groomed the consumer to wait until now to buy a product," he said.