It's always been a tradition for Clay Tillman to go take part in the Black Friday shopping extravaganza with his family. Well, not really with his family. 

The tradition goes like this: Each family member picks a different store and scans its wares, texting the others if he or she finds a deal. 

Being the electronics nerd, Tillman, 30, woke up at 7 a.m. Friday and headed to the Best Buy on Bluebonnet Boulevard, which opened at 8 a.m. The store was bustling with people dragging flat screen TV's to the checkout, and he found a Google Home Mini that was on sale.

But by 8:45 a.m., he was about ready to go home. The deals were worth checking out, he said, but no one in his family is in the market for a TV this year, and Tillman, of Baton Rouge, plans to do most of his Christmas buying on the internet. 

"In fact, I'm probably going to go home and shop online," he said.

Tillman is like many Americans this year, who are increasingly turning to the internet to do their holiday shopping, according to Dan Rice, a marketing professor at LSU. 

"Percentage-wise online is growing at a much faster rate than the brick and mortar stores," he said recently. 

A survey by the National Retail Federation projected that — for the first time — online will be the most popular shopping destination this holiday season. Participants were asked where they planned to shop this year and could select multiple destinations. Fifty-nine percent said they planned to shop online, 57 percent said they would shop in department stores and 54 percent selected discount stores.

In total, online and non-store sales are projected to grow 11 to 15 percent compared to last year, according to numbers provided by the federation. By comparison, total holiday sales are anticipated to increase just 3.6 to 4 percent.

Seeking to remain relevant, some stores are trying to bring the online buyers into the store. 

At the Target on Millerville Road, store manager Fred Regalado said customers are able to place an online order and pick up their merchandise at the store. In fact, the company encouraged it this year by allowing people to reserve door buster prices as early as Wednesday over the internet.

Regalado said the store has already seen a 100 percent increase in online sales with in-store pickup compared to 2015. The store was not open last year for Black Friday because it flooded in August 2016.

"I think they still come for the experience, but I think they're doing a lot of the shopping or at least a majority of it online," he said. 

He said the biggest rush at the store was on Thursday, when about 1,000 people waited outside for Target to open at 6 p.m. Between Thursday and Friday, Regalado said he is projecting to sell twice the amount he does on an average weekend.

Among the popular items that have been discounted are TV's, toys, hoverboards, gaming chairs, throw blankets and matching family pajamas, he said. 

Tiffanie Pitre walked the Target store with her mom, Valerie Hunter, and her three toddlers in strollers.

Pitre said she plans to start her holiday shopping in stores. She found a plastic dump truck and kids tool kit for a Secret Santa between her friends' kids on Friday morning. 

"It's nice to touch and feel stuff," she said.

But if there is something she can't find in person, she'll go online. 

Her mom, by contrast, will buy most everything in stores. 

"I'm from the old school," Hunter said with a laugh. "I like stores. I don't like the online. It's part of Christmas, the hustle and bustle, the screaming kids, the crying."

Black Friday still remains important to retailers, who rely on it as a big business day and as the kickoff to the holiday season, Rice said. 

One reason is tradition, Rice said. He said many people are used to going out in search of a great deal with their families. Another reason is that retailers offer different deals online and in-store, and people are tracking both, he said.

"I don't think it’s either or. I think some people may really like going out and doing something on Black Friday," he said. 

Of the total $678.75 billion to $682 billion that the federation anticipates will be spent this holiday season, about $137.7 billion to $142.6 billion is expected to come from online and non-store sales.

On Friday morning, the Mall of Louisiana was busy but not packed, with people toting shopping bags and wandering down the hallways, in and out of stores. 

Heather Reigh, a property management associate at the mall, said this is usually the mall's biggest weekend, though Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas are also big days. Among the stores that drew lines were Victoria's Secret and clothing boutique Blu Spero, she said. Many people also hit the department stores, including Macy's, where rolling luggage was popular, she said. 

Reigh contests the idea that online shopping is eating into the mall's holiday business, saying in-person sales still holds a place for people who want to go out with family. She said the mall is seeing more customers this year than last year with Thursday night being especially crowded. Meanwhile, numbers Friday morning were about equal to last year, she said.

"There is something to be said for the experience of going out and shopping that you don’t get that feeling online. And that's why I think we see this rush on Thursday and Friday," she said.

Carrying on a seven or eight-year-old tradition, Missy Wild, 47, a school teacher in Albany, went to the mall with three of her friends and their kids. She designed matching T-shirts for the group this year, dubbing herself captain, and her fellow shoppers "team member," "team member in training" and "team chauffeur."

The crew left home in eastern Livingston Parish at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday and were still shopping at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning. They had already been to stores in Hammond, Ponchatoula, the Tanger Outlets in Gonzales, and they participated in a mad rush for purses at Dillard's.

"We're about to start leaving the kids, because we're running out of room," Wild said of their Suburban packed full of gifts. 

Wild said she won't be switching to online too soon.

"I like to see it. I like to touch it. I like to try it on," she said. "I just like the hustle and bustle. I like to be a part of it."


Follow Caroline Grueskin on Twitter, @cgrueskin.