Yes, the stores were crowded on Black Friday. But aside from snatching up those door-buster bargains, shoppers appeared to be cautious at the start of the holiday gift-buying season, with sales off 1.8 percent compared to last year.

ShopperTrak, a retail technology company, said the number of shoppers out on Friday rose 3.5 percent compared to last year. But some consumers may have shifted their spending to Thanksgiving, when many large retailers sought to jump-start the season by opening on the holiday, although that practice is banned in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Nationally, sales Friday slumped to $11.2 billion, compared to $11.4 billion on the day after Thanksgiving last year.

Bill Martin, the founder of ShopperTrak, said shoppers are turning their attention to the holidays after being distracted by the election and Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast.

But, he said, those consumers are value-conscious and the sales figures suggest they focused most on sharply discounted door-buster sales.

The National Retail Federation is forecasting a 4.1 percent increase in retail sales during the November-December holiday period this year, down from the 5.6 percent increase posted in 2011.

Nationally, Walmart said it had its best Black Friday ever. As with other large chains, Black Friday began Thursday night and the retailing giant said it handled more than 22 million customers on Thursday alone.

Shoppers were focused on electronics, video games, DVDs, Furbys, dolls, board games and slow cookers, Walmart said.

“We had very safe and successful Black Friday events at our stores across the country and heard overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customers,” Bill Simon, Walmart U.S. president and chief executive, said in a statement, downplaying the impact of protests at its stores Friday by employees and union organizers who say the chain offers poor wages and benefits.

Protesters in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont joined others across the nation in Black Friday pickets at Walmart stores. In Ellsworth, about 15 activists near the city’s Walmart Supercenter held signs with slogans such as “Boycott Black Friday!”