Holiday shopping gets off to a good start

(CBS News) NEW YORK - One day after the holiday season kickoff, the nation's merchants have reason for joy. By one estimate, the number of Black Friday shoppers was up 20 percent over the same day last year. The question now is whether shoppers can maintain the pace.

It's shaping up to be a record setting opening to this holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer, says it sold nearly 5,000 items a second on Thanksgiving night as stores opened their doors this year earlier than ever.

The pumpkin pie was barely eaten Thursday night when retailers opened their doors-- some as early as 8 and 9 p.m. -- to jump start the holiday shopping season

People showed up. A clear majority of the nation's shoppers came in to the stores between Thursday night and Friday morning, according to an overnight survey from America's Research Group

"This Black Friday was by far the biggest ever," said Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America's Research Group. "We've never seen 60 percent of consumers shop in a 12-14 hour window like we've see this year."

For many, Thanksgiving is the new Black Friday.

"We can have a lot to eat and then rest of about an hour," said one person, "take a little nap, and then come out straight to Black Friday because that is our number one priority around Thanksgiving."

But clearly bargain hunters are driving spending this year. "They had towels on sale for two dollars, they had blankets on sale for fifteen. It's just a great sale," said another person.

But retailers hope that consumers will pick up non-sale items as well "I just grab," said a man. "Impulse. I see what I like and I grab it and then I go."

This season it's estimated that consumers will spend about $750 each this year, up slightly from $741 last year.

For retailers, holiday shopping can account for up to 40 percent of annual sales. On Saturday, President Obama went shopping with his daughters at an independent bookstore, to help boost small business

In stores large and small, the Smartphone is becoming a must-have shopping accessory.

"We noticed that consumers said they were using Smartphones twice as often this year than last year to scan prices, look at information," said Beemer.

"I am using modern technology being an old man, going shopping," said a consumer.

And Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a relatively new push in the last few years to get consumers to shop at local businesses and restaurants. American Express came up with the idea. And for many small businesses, Saturday is a more important shopping day than Black Friday.