NEW YORK — Along with turkey and racing for doorbuster deals at the malls, online shopping is emerging as a Thanksgiving pastime and a bigger factor in overall holiday spending.

Web site operators said Monday that they anticipate a robust season — though sales gains may be less than in previous years. Consumers, particularly women, appear more comfortable shopping online even for higher-ticket items, and improvements on Web pages are speeding transactions.

“We started to see a surge on Friday,’’ said Patrick Byrne, chairman and president of Overstock.com, the $300 million off-price site selling hard and soft goods. “In previous years, it started on Monday,” known in the Web world as Black Monday.

Thanksgiving Day is still comparatively light for online shopping, but spending increased this year to $133 million, from $67 million in 2003, according to ComScore Networks, a consumer research firm. Americans spent $250 million online on Black Friday, compared with $178 million last year.

Stores, meanwhile, were crowded for the holiday shopping kickoff last weekend, but most retailers are cautious in assessing potential sales, projecting about 2 to 3 percent comp-store gains. Merchants selling online see gains 10 times or more that amount off a relatively small volume base.

Bluefly chief executive officer Melissa Payner said her site entered the holiday season with more momentum than last year, and drove traffic over the Thanksgiving period with four promotions: Prada on Thursday, outerwear on Friday, dresses on Saturday and shoes on Sunday.

For the four-day period, visits to Bluefly increased 13 to 17 percent compared with last year. While that doesn’t immediately translate into commensurate sales gains, there is a healthy boost in new customers signing onto the site, Payner said. She cited cashmere accessories and outerwear, alligator bags, Prada products, brooches, small leather accessories and gifts and silk camisoles with lace as bestsellers.

At jcrew.com, “Business is great and our customers are quickly learning that they have to buy fast and buy early because we are running out of a lot of goods,” said Margot Brunelle, director of marketing. “We’ve been extremely pleased to the response to luxury items, such as shearling toggle coats, $1,500, and limited-edition cashmere men’s blazers at $498. Customers shopping online are not intimated by a high price. A lot of times, you think they have go in the stores to shop for them, but our customers are very confident shopping online.”

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