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Does Black Friday Still Matter?

The rise of the internet has led to predictions of the death of in-store shopping. People’s behavior indicates otherwise.

The rise of the internet has led to predictions that in-store shopping will die. Why push through crowds and get up early when you can buy what you need on your phone or laptop?

That sounds right, but people’s behavior says otherwise. 

In fact, nearly 2 million more people are likely to shop between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, despite the fact that holiday creep and supply-chain worries led people to start shopping earlier in the year, according to a recently released annual survey from the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

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“We’re expecting another record-breaking holiday season this year and Thanksgiving weekend will play a major role as it always has,” NRF Chief Executive Matthew Shay said. 

“Nonetheless, consumers are starting earlier than ever to be sure they can get what they want, when they want it, at a price they want to pay. 

"Black Friday stopped being a one-day event years ago, and this year some consumers started shopping for Christmas as early as Halloween.”

Black Friday might not be the singular day where people rush into stores to battle over cheap TVs and the hottest toys, but it remains a major shopping day that has become part of a huge shopping long weekend.

Not Quite Prepandemic Levels

Two-thirds of shoppers surveyed in early November said they expected to shop during the extended Thanksgiving weekend in 2021. 

The NRF estimates that 158.3 million people will make purchases in-store or online over the four-day period. That’s a 1.1% increase from 156.6 million shoppers in 2020 but 4.2% below the 165.3 million who shopped prepandemic in 2019.

Thanksgiving Weekend Graphic

Black Friday will have the most shoppers by far with 108 million people expected to hit the brick-and-mortar and digital stores. 

Just over 30 million people will shop on Thanksgiving Day while 58.1 million will shop on Saturday, 31.2 million on Sunday, and about twice that (62.8 million) will participate on Cyber Monday. 

Some people, of course, will shop multiple days (which explains why the daily numbers are larger than the overall figure.

On Black Friday, 64% of those surveyed expect to shop in stores. That’s an increase from 51% in 2020 when pandemic-related concerns led more people to shop online.

Still Big, Just Not Quite as Big

Supply-chain woes have accelerated the trend where retailers begin holiday sales before Halloween and, in some cases, as soon as the calendar turns to October. 

That does not mean that Black Friday doesn’t retain a certain level of nostalgic appeal.

“Black Friday still has some psychological importance as many Americans have the day off and turn the page from Thanksgiving to Christmas,” Senior Industry Analyst Ted Rossman told TheStreet via email. “We’ll see more in-person shopping this year than we did last year, since the pandemic was worse last November.”

Still, while Rossman says that the Black-Friday-is-dead narrative isn’t true, he does see a shift in general shopping trends.

“I expect this will be a strong holiday shopping season, up double-digits from last year, but I wouldn’t read too much into Thanksgiving weekend shopping,” he wrote. 

“It’s more about the broader picture, in my view. And for all of the hubbub about Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, a lot of those lower prices have been available for weeks already.”

And while Black Friday may not be quite what it used to be, it will be a major part of what the National Retail Federation expects will be a record holiday season. 

Sales during November and December are expected to grow between 8.5% and 10.5% to between $843.4 billion and $859 billion, according to the trade association. That would be a record, beating out an 8.2% increase in 2020.