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Black Friday Is Mutating

It now lasts longer than a week and lives online.

A person carries four shopping bags on their arm.
Black Friday shoppers in London.
Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

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In an interview with the Boston Globe last week, retail analyst Marshal Cohen described the state of pre- and post-Thanksgiving sales events like this: “It’s no longer Black Friday... It’s now Black November.” That’s really the most succinct way to put it. Many retailers started sales the Monday before Thanksgiving — though H&M and Amazon kicked off markdowns before that — and let them bleed into the weekend, through Cyber Monday, and into today. Gone is the single adrenaline-fueled day of shopping, replaced by a steady flow of deals that shoppers can access at their convenience.

That brings us to this year’s other big story: E-commerce is coming up fast. Adobe’s research wing found that e-commerce sales clocked in at $2.87 billion on Thanksgiving and $5.03 billion on Black Friday, beating estimates on both days. As of last night, Cyber Monday was on track to hit $6.57 billion in sales, up nearly 17 percent from 2016, making it the biggest one yet. (That’s huge, but cute compared to China’s Singles’ Day earlier this month, which brought in $25.3 billion in sales for e-commerce giant Alibaba alone.)

The National Retail Federation says that of the 174 million Americans who shopped between Thursday and Monday, 58 million of them exclusively made online purchases, versus 51 million who only shopped in stores. More tellingly, over 64 million people bought online and in person, underscoring the fact that retailers need to do both well to be successful today — especially because those consumers spent more money than those who only shopped online or in-store.

Unsurprisingly, people shopped on their phones more than ever before, with smartphone revenue on Cyber Monday rising 39.2 percent from last year to $1.59 billion, according to Adobe. For some retailers, those numbers were even higher: Shopify, an e-commerce software provider for small- and medium-sized businesses, says that mobile transactions accounted for 60 percent of all sales yesterday, up 11 percent from last year.

People also shopped more on their phones depending on what day it was. Adobe found that smartphones accounted for slightly more traffic than desktop computers on Thanksgiving, but not on Black Friday. You may not whip out your laptop when you have friends and family over, but you’ll definitely pull out your phone for some sneaky (or, let’s be honest, very blatant) browsing.

The prevalence of online shopping, plus the fact that Black Friday has stretched into a week-plus of deals, resulted in slightly lower foot traffic in stores this Black Friday. That’s not to say that America’s foremost shopping holiday is dead. In fact, the NRF found that the biggest spenders were millennials, who spent $419.52 on average when spending across all age groups was $335.47 per person. It’s just that Black Friday isn’t so individually important anymore.