* Best Buy, Toys R Us see strong start to holidays
* Longer shopper lines on Black Friday
* S&P Retail Index down 0.4 pct (Adds comments from Kmart, Macy's, Staples, adds closing stock prices)
By Dhanya Skariachan
NEW YORK, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Top U.S. retailers from Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) to Toys R Us [TOY.UL] saw longer lines of shoppers outside stores on Black Friday, raising hopes for an improved holiday selling season, their chief executives said.
"Judging from the excitement at Toys R Us at 10 p.m. (Thursday) and throughout the evening, the shopper is back," Toys R Us Chief Executive Jerry Storch told Reuters on Black Friday, the kick-off to the biggest selling season of the year.
While retail executives tend to project optimism in media appearances on Black Friday, they still have weeks to wait for total returns from the holiday season between U.S. Thanksgiving Day, which fell on Thursday, and Christmas on Dec. 25.
Early anecdotal evidence from shoppers who lined up at stores well before dawn on Friday and from industry analysts who hopped between several malls suggested traffic was strong and the appetite to buy was up from a year ago. [ID:nNN2529414]
Macy's Inc (M.N) CEO Terry Lundgren said the retailer had 7,000 shoppers outside its flagship Herald Square store in Manhattan at 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT) on Black Friday, 2,000 more than last year.
"There seems to be a lot more men and a lot more younger consumers between the ages of 15 and 25," Lundgren told Reuters.
For a graphic on Black Friday traffic and holiday sales:
For a Reuters Insider report: [ID:nRTV166827]
Reuters Insider reports on Black Friday trends:
For other holiday retail stories [ID:nUSHOLIDAY]
Live coverage of Black Friday sales: here ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Toys R Us' Storch said he was feeling "great" about the rest of the holiday shopping season and noted that even in regions where it rained or snowed on Black Friday, "customers braved the weather to get to the store."
The toy retailer saw customers open their wallets for cheaper hot toys like Sing-A-Ma-Jigs plush dolls and Squinkies collectibles, as well as for more expensive classic brands like Barbie dolls, Nerf foam toys and Lego building blocks.
"They seem to be purchasing big baskets," Storch said, adding it was too early to comment more specifically on how much was being spent per customer.
Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn said products like smartphones, e-readers, computers and mobile computing devices were selling very well. Video game systems like Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) Kinect and Sony Corp's (8729.T) (SNE.N) Move were also "drawing a lot of interest and a lot of action," he said.
"There are customers that are grabbing multiple items for their basket. So far, so good," Dunn told Reuters. "I think the consumer is going to come out this holiday season."
The Standard & Poor's Retail Index .RLX closed down 0.4 percent on Friday, retreating slightly from a 3-1/2-year high hit on Wednesday. It outpaced the wider S&P 500 .SPX, which fell 0.8 percent. Best Buy shares closed 0.1 percent lower, while Macy's shares were up 0.4 percent.
While retailers sought to woo more shoppers this year with attractive doorbuster deals and early-bird offers, executives across the retail industry agree that post-recession U.S. shoppers are harder to please.
"There has been this strong message from consumers: 'I'm not just going to buy the least-expensive sweater you have, I want to buy the sweater that is the best quality for the lowest price,'" Macy's Lundgren said.
"The customer today is ... discerning. They want great deals. They don't just want low prices, they want great value," said Jevin Eagle, executive vice president of marketing and merchandising at retailer Staples. (SPLS.O)
At the same time, many store chains are still keeping close watch on how low their competitors are willing to go when it comes to discounts.
The post-recession U.S. shopper "understands all her options and her full power as a shopper," said Mark Snyder, chief marketing officer at Kmart, owned by Sears Holdings. (SHLD.O) He added that "promotional pricing (is) still very, very important in the competitive context." (Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan and Phil Wahba; Editing by Michele Gershberg, John Wallace and Matthew Lewis)