Shoppers turn to online purchasing as stores see calmer Black Friday sales
Cashier at Wal-Mart (G.e.o.r.g.e/Flickr)

The top US shopping "holiday" saw a surge this year in online sales with smaller crowds in stores -- but Black Friday still brought some of its trademark shopping mall pandemonium.

Businesses usually offer deep discounts starting early Friday morning, prompting massive crowds that have led to numerous injuries and a number of deaths in years past.

This year, businesses continued a trend in starting shopping deals earlier and extending them longer, leading to smaller crowds.

But many major retailers, including discount megastore Walmart, also emphasized online shopping as a way to get consumers purchasing faster.

There were smaller lines and fewer packs of frenzied shoppers at malls around the country Thursday night and Friday, US media reported.

Still, several people were injured and three were arrested after a shopping fight early Friday morning at a department store in southern California, reports said.

And what appeared to be a murder suicide took place Friday night at a Nordstrom department store in Chicago. Police deemed it "domestic-related," according to the Chicago Tribune.

This year the shopping day was also caught up in a furor over the decision not to indict the police officer who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri. The shooting has put American race-relations under scrutiny and prompted demonstrations over how police, especially white officers, interact with African Americans.

Black public figures called for Black Friday boycotts, and in Ferguson, Missouri, where the killing took place, protests briefly shut down a local mall.

In the west coast city of Seattle, protesters chained a mall's doors closed, and in California's San Francisco, hundreds rallied and a police officer was injured by a bottle thrown at a police car, local media reported Friday.

Meanwhile, the FBI recorded 144,000 background checks for Black Friday gun sales, CNN reported. Black Friday is one of the busiest days for gun sales in the US, the FBI said.

- Online sales on the rise -

Early reports showed up to a 22 percent increase in Black Friday online shopping compared to last year, as well as an increasing number of people shopping online on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving online sales were up by 20 percent, according to a report from commercial analyst ChannelAdvisor Corp.

For the first time the majority of online sales came from mobile devices, a report by IBM said.

The largest day of online sales typically comes on the Monday following Black Friday, when stores offer a number of online-only discounts.

Retailers have been buoyed by predictions that a drop in gas prices and higher consumer confidence could lead to higher sales overall this year.

The start of the US holiday shopping season has slowly been been broken up into a number of shopping days including "Gray Thursday," "Black Friday," Small Business Saturday," and "Cyber Monday" to prompt sales ahead of Christmas.

US president Barack Obama made a surprise visit Saturday morning to a landmark Washington bookstore to support small businesses.