Crowds were thin at U.S. stores and shopping malls in the early hours of Black Friday and on Thanksgiving evening as shoppers responded to early holiday discounts with caution and bad weather hurt turnout.

Major retail stocks including Target and Wal-Mart fell in early trading.

Bargain hunters found relatively little competition compared with previous years. Some on Friday morning said they had already shopped online or visited the mall the night before. That reflects the new normal of U.S. holiday shopping, where stores open up with deals on Thanksgiving Thursday itself, rather than waiting until Black Friday.

In an effort to attract the most eager holiday shoppers and fend off competition from Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), U.S. retailers have increasingly extended their holiday deals by opening stores on the evening of Thanksgiving.

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