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Black Friday is both nonexistent and dragging on forever in this endless year from hell

Kate Taylor   

Black Friday is both nonexistent and dragging on forever in this endless year from hell
  • Black Friday's power has been diminishing for years.
  • Deals started earlier than ever before this year and will continue longer than in years past.
  • In-store shopping has shrunk during a global pandemic.
  • In 2020, the passage of time is meaningless and confounding. So it makes sense that this year would put the nail in the coffin of the idea of Black Friday as a single day of sales and frantic shopping.

It's Black Friday. But doesn't it feel like it's been Black Friday for a while? Or as if it was never Black Friday at all?

The sales started more than a month ago, with Amazon's delayed Prime Day. As of Wednesday, shoppers had spent $62.5 billion online, up 36.2% from last year, according to Adobe Analytics data. There has been more than $1 billion in online sales every single day in November, with Adobe concluding that companies "successfully moved shoppers to buy earlier in the season with early discounts and effective promotions."

The stretched-out start to the holiday shopping season resulted in people spending $5.1 billion online on Thanksgiving Day, up 21.5% from last year — a somewhat tempered outcome in a year of explosive online sales.

"While yesterday was a record-breaking Thanksgiving Day with over $5 billion spent online, it didn't come with the kind of aggressive growth rate we've seen with the start of the pandemic," Taylor Schreiner, a director at Adobe Digital Insights, said in a statement. "Heavy discounts and aggressive promotions starting in early November succeeded at getting consumers to open their wallets earlier."

"I don't even know if I'd call it Black Friday anymore," Nate Shenck, Boston Consulting Group's head of retail, told Business Insider. In 2020, we're seeing "deals lasting longer, starting earlier," Shenck said.

The pandemic and the associated e-commerce boom are not entirely to blame. Increased year-round discounts and the rise of online sales have made Black Friday less important.

In 2017, Josh Elman, a consumer and retail analyst with Nasdaq Advisory Services, told Business Insider that "the whole idea and concept of Black Friday deals in store will diminish over time." A few years later, it looks like he nailed it.

A decade ago, retailers were fighting a pitched Black Friday battle, offering better prices on a frantic day or two of shopping. Then the retail apocalypse and malls' declining foot traffic forced them to offer massive discounts every month of the year. Rising e-commerce sales helped people realize that bargain shopping didn't have to be a crowded, stressful experience you suffered through the day after Thanksgiving. Cyber Monday further took the spotlight off Black Friday.

"It has become less of a physical event and more of a virtual event in the last five to six years," Dave Marcotte, a senior vice president at Kantar Retail, told Business Insider earlier this year, adding that Black Friday had lost its "immediacy."

The pandemic stretched Black Friday longer and longer until it was no longer recognizable

In-store shopping is particularly sparse this year. Walmart, for example, is limiting the number of people allowed in stores. Even stores with less strict limitations are seeing more people shop online than in person.

"Newport Centre, a major mall in a major metro area is a ghost town," Phil Wahba, a Fortune retail reporter, tweeted, adding that "this feels more like an average Tuesday in April than #blackfriday2020."

Meanwhile, online sales are stretching longer. Companies like Walmart and Target have rebranded Cyber Monday as Cyber Week. But the actual length is even longer — something closer to a Cyber Month.

This is all happening in a year when the passage of time is meaningless and confounding. Starting pumpkin-spice-latte season earlier than ever because people are miserable? Sure! Putting up Christmas lights before Halloween to battle 2020-induced depression? Bring it on!

Read more: Starbucks and Dunkin' are starting Pumpkin Spice season earlier than ever, as customers grow desperate for 2020 to end

As people shop online in an attempt to eke out some joy in a year when every day can feel the same, it's no surprise some were happy to have "holiday" shopping start early.

Black Friday has been going on for weeks. But if the "day" of sales can stretch for months, with little incentive to shop on the actual day, the traditional Black Friday is meaningless. Black Friday is dead; long live Black Friday.