10 Holiday Shopping Days Less Hectic Than Black Friday

Black Friday offers some huge discounts, but it's by no means the best or only holiday shopping date on the calendar.

Roughly 154.4 million people told the National Retail Federation that they either shopped or planned to shop on Thanksgiving weekend in 2016. Of those, 40% shopped in stores and 44% shopped online. Of those who shopped in stores, 75% shopped on Black Friday itself, while 74% of those who shopped online did so on that day. However, spending for that weekend overall dropped from $299.60 per person in 2015 to $289.19 last year.

Holiday shoppers' approach to Black Friday has changed as well. Nearly 30% of shoppers went to stores after 10 a.m. on Black Friday, up from 24% the year before. Meanwhile, the percentage of people lining up for early morning doorbusters has shrunk to less than 15% of all Black Friday shoppers. Why? Because consumers now have options both before and after Black Friday.

As the NRF discovered, 10% of shoppers have their holiday shopping completely finished by Black Friday weekend as retailers including Toys R Us, Marshalls TJX , Target TGT , Amazon AMZN and others accept holiday returns of many items purchased in October or even as early as September. Another 23% don't make a dent in their lists until December.

According to accounting firm Deloitte, even more shoppers may be avoiding Black Friday weekend altogether this year. Of those who replied to its 2017 holiday survey, 20% say they'll finish holiday shopping before Thanksgiving. A whopping 53% say they don't rely on Black Friday as much as they used to, while one in five shoppers will spend 23% of their holiday budget after December 25. Roughly 51% of that group says they'll still be buying gifts for the current holiday season.

The NRF says it expects holiday sales to increase 3.6% to 4% from last year, with totals ranging between $678.5 billion to $682 billion. With one more day of shopping on this year's calendar than there was last year and an extra weekend's worth of shopping thanks to the fact that Christmas falls on a Monday this year, the NRF sees U.S. holiday shoppers spending deep into the holiday season.

"Our forecast reflects the very realistic steady momentum of the economy and overall strength of the industry," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay says. "Although this year hasn't been perfect, especially with the recent devastating hurricanes, we believe that a longer shopping season and strong consumer confidence will deliver retailers a strong holiday season."

Those shoppers just won't necessarily have to pin all of their hopes on Black Friday. With retailers embracing all points on the retail calendar, shoppers no longer need to wait out in the cold, shoulder their way through a horde of human beings and go sprinting toward cheap generic versions of better name-brand items. With help from the NRF, Deloitte, shopping site DealNews and market research firms ComScore and ShopperTrak, here are ten less-hectic days for getting holiday shopping deals.

Is Your Wallet Ready for Black Friday?

Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 24.

Cyber Monday

November 27

According to ComScore, U.S. shoppers spent an impressive $1.9 billion online on Black Friday last year. That still placed Black Friday a distant second to Cyber Monday and its $2.7 billion haul. Even the National Retail Federation, which has to represent both online and brick-and-mortar outlets (but coined the term Cyber Monday in 2005), notes than 122 million people shopped on Cyber Monday specifically last year. Considering that just 75% of the 154.4 million people shopping on Thanksgiving weekend planned to shop on Black Friday, that puts Cyber Monday up 122 million to 116 million. That may not sound "less hectic," but remember that all of those people are shopping either from work or from the comfort of their own home, unlike the roughly 46 million people actually braving stores on Black Friday. As DealNews points out, if you're shopping for clothes, shoes, beauty product, travel deals, laptops, data storage or Android phones, Cyber Monday is your best bet for all of it.

"Shopping online is more convenient than ever before—while traveling, emailing or relaxing at home, we're seeing consumers of all ages researching and shopping for online deals," said Prosper's Insight principal analyst Pam Goodfellow. "Cyber Monday deals have become something that smart shoppers rely on, and this year is no different. Consumers wake up early ready to shop at their favorite retailers for the items they've had their eye on all season."


November 23

This one remains controversial, but definitely not hectic. Though stores have been pushing Thanksgiving Day shopping for about five years at this point, just 35% of those who shopped in stores on Thanksgiving weekend and 36% of those who shopped online did so on Thanksgiving day.

In fact, Nordstrom (JWN) , Neiman Marcus, Home Depot (HD) , Lowe's, Costco (COST) , BJ's Wholesale Club, GameStop (GME) , H&M, IKEA, the TJX stores (Marshall's, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx), OfficeDepot, Officemax, REI, Petco, The Container Store and DSW are among the stores that are closing their doors on Thanksgiving Day (but still taking orders online).

"Not only did stores attract negative publicity for keeping employees from their families, but reports suggest that in-store sales just weren't worth it," says DealNews' Julie Ramhold. "Shoppers will definitely shop on Thanksgiving, but probably not until dinner is over; and then, the convenience of online shopping could win out."

That said, JCPenney (JCP) , Gamestop, Walmart (WMT) , Target (TGT) , Best Buy (BBY) , Macy's (M) , Sears (SHLD) , Kohl's (KSS) , Kmart, Old Navy (GPS) , Dick's Sporting Goods (DKS) , Gander Mountain, Bass Pro Shops (CAB) and others are still open on Thanksgiving -- with JCPenney opening as early as 3 p.m. There's a reason for all of this: cameras, Apple iPhones, speakers, televisions, tablets, movies, video games, shoes and appliances all get their deepest discounts on Thanksgiving, according to DealNews. Even better, ComScore says roughly $1.3 billion in Thanksgiving shopping now takes place online. That's up 17% from 2015, yet still places Thanksgiving outside the 10 biggest online shopping days of the year. There's room for improvement.

Green Monday

December 11

Green Monday came into being after eBay gave its best shopping day of December -- the second Monday of the month -- that name back in 2007. That year, online sales on the newly dubbed Green Monday hit $881 million, up 33% from the same Monday a year earlier, according to ComScore. Even Cyber Monday ranked behind Green Monday that year, bringing in just $733 million by ComScore's estimates.

However, at the time, eBay was the No. 6 Internet property in the world, according to ComScore. Its 240.9 unique individual users was well ahead of Amazon's 187.3 million and ranked just below Wikipedia and AOL (273 million apiece). In the year that Apple released its first iPhone, eBay (EBAY) was the lead e-commerce site in the world and folks were more than happy to sit on it for hours bidding on items and enduring auctions.

That's over. By the time December 2015 came around and "Digital Internet Properties" became "Digital Media Properties," eBay didn't even rank in the Top 10 in the U.S. Among both desktop and mobile users, it was knocked to 19th with 104 million visitors. That's behind No. 16 Walmart (111.8 million users) and way behind No. 4 Amazon (198.7 million users). As eBay's profile plunged, so did that of Green Monday. After peaking at $1.6 billion in 2014, Green Monday sales slumped 13% in 2015 to $1.41 billion.

However, Green Monday made a comeback last year by bringing in $1.62 billion. Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy have pages and specific deals dedicated to it and its return to the second Monday of December has restored a familiar shopping pattern that harkens back to its eBay days. It was the fifth-largest online shopping day of last holiday season and a reminder that some of the biggest shopping still happens in December.

Free Shipping Day

December 15

Free Shipping Day is a floating retail holiday that attempts to fall a week before Christmas Eve. That timing matters, since free shipping doesn't make much of a difference if a gift doesn't get to its recipient by Christmas. It fell on Dec. 18 in 2015 last year and saw a 9% drop in spending as a result. However, that $845 million in spending and the $926 million that was spent in 2014 was all down from the more than $1 billion that Free Shipping Day generated in 2011. Though Free Shipping Day sales jumped to $967 million last year, when it fell on December 16, it still hasn't returned to that $1 billion threshold.

"While we try to schedule the event one week before Christmas Eve, the calendar doesn't always accommodate," says Luke Knowles, founder of Free Shipping Day. "This year, we expect 2,000 or more stores to participate since it's a couple days earlier than last year."

Even with this year's Free Shipping Day slated for December 15, that holiday faces the same challenges at Green Monday. For one, free shipping isn't exactly the novelty it was when that day first arrived in 2008. Major retailers like Target and Walmart offer free shipping in one form or another. Amazon does as well, but its Prime service has made free shipping a moot point for members. Even when smaller retailers decide to offer free shipping that day, the National Retail Federation notes that just 3% of holiday shoppers start shopping that close to Christmas, and that a third of shoppers believe they will have purchased their last gift by that time.

However, according to Deloitte, 76% of holiday shoppers will take advantage of free shipping this season. Of those shoppers, 88% feel that free shipping is more important than fast shipping -- with 45% of shoppers willing to wait four days or more for their shipment. It also turns out that 65% of shoppers believe they can buy an item by Dec. 17 and still get free shipping in time of Christmas. If that holds up, expect this to be Free Shipping Day's comeback year.

Cyber Tuesday

November 28

ComScore already measures online sales based on the "Cyber Week" following Cyber Monday, and they're right to do so. With Amazon and other retailers extending Cyber Monday deals throughout the week, it's little surprise that last year's Cyber Tuesday raked in $2.2 billion, making it the second-largest online shopping day of the holiday season and giving it almost $250 million more in online spending than Black Friday. It's an absolutely staggering figure for a shopping "holiday" that goes almost completely unrecognized. In 2017, apparently, the shopping holidays are over when Amazon says they are.

Cyber Wednesday

November 29

At this point, it's less about the online deals and more about shopping fatigue. As ShopperTrak points out, during the weekend before Cyber Monday, physical retailers see two of the busiest days of the entire year. Shopping fatigue is real, but so is the realization that you're back at work. Meanwhile, Amazon's Cyber Week continues, the stores are desolate and you're in fairly good shape to get a handful of deals without enduring all that much stress.

Cyber Thursday

November 30

O.K., you get the picture by now. Thanksgiving and Black Friday have taken all of the store shopping right out of even the most strong-willed shoppers. Meanwhile, you're getting to the dregs of Amazon's Cyber Week sales. Still, ShopperTrak says you'll see few other days on the calendar with store traffic as slow as it is on this day. By Friday, people will be in the weekend holiday shopping mindframe again. By Saturday, December 2, you're already on the eighth-busiest shopping day on the holiday calendar. Your lesson for Cyber Week should be this: Hit the stores while the Black Friday crowd recovers and while the Cyber Week folks are online and waiting for deliveries.

First Tuesday of December

December 5

You don't generally see a whole lot of busy Tuesdays on the shopping calendar, but this is going to be the last calm one of the holiday season. ShopperTrak puts it down as the fifth-slowest holiday shopping day of the year, which is great for anyone going to stores. However, on this day last year, ComScore says U.S. consumers managed to spend little more than $1.5 billion online. That made it the seventh-busiest online holiday shopping day of the year and gave it $200 million more in online buying power than Thanksgiving, when most people had the day off and no excuses not to shop.

Small Business Saturday

November 25

It's tough to call it a "small" business holiday when one of its founding partners is American Express. But when that partner is willing to give businesses marketing materials, help them organize events and put together small-business passport programs for frequent customers, it makes a difference. Last year, 112 million shoppers spent $15.4 billion at small businesses across the country. Considering that larger businesses often extend their Black Friday sales well into the weekend, that's no small feat.

Second Friday of December

Dec. 8

Why? We honestly have no idea, but there's something about the timing that makes people just want to spend a whole lot of money online. Last year, on Dec. 9, online shoppers parted with $1.7 billion just because it was little more than two weeks out from Christmas. To put that number in perspective, it's about $270 million shy of Black Friday's total, but ahead of Green Monday and nearly $400 million more than Thanksgiving's total. There's a natural rhythm to holiday shopping that paranoid consumers understand better than anyone. This date gives you just enough space to wrap up Christmas shopping a bit early, but also guarantees holiday shipping that may be a bit dicier a week later.