Black Friday shopping: Fade to gray?

Many online retailers, including Wal-Mart, are rolling out their Black Friday deals earlier online, rather than waiting for Friday morning. 

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/File
A Wal-Mart worker organizes products for the Christmas season at a Wal-Mart store in Teterboro, N.J.

Those looking to get in on Black Friday deals after Thanksgiving dinner can do so from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to more retailers expanding their online sales efforts.

Wal-Mart plans to unveil its online shopping deals just after midnight on Black Friday rather than waiting for the Cyber Monday, and kicked off the holiday season by putting select deals on its site about two weeks before the shopping day. The move comes largely as a way to compete with online retail giant Amazon, and is just one of a few ways that the post-Thanksgiving shopping tradition has shifted in recent years.

Since 2007, the average store opening time has jumped back from around 5 a.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Thursday in 2014, prompting some to decry the shopping day’s encroachment on Thanksgiving, or call the day “Gray Thursday.” But as online retailers have beefed up their product lines and rolled out sales over longer periods of time, fewer people are flocking to the stores on Friday, and more have joined the trend.  

Last year, more than $1 billion was spent online on Thanksgiving Day, indicating that shoppers are likely to use the holiday to make their purchases, especially when that process is tailored for convenience on mobile devices. And a survey conducted last year showed that 44 percent of shoppers planned to go to stores on Friday, a drop from over 60 percent in 2012.

"People are no longer waiting until they get back to work to shop. I have a better connection on my phone right now than I do at my desk at work," Steven Skinner, a senior vice president of Cognizant Technology Solutions, told Bloomberg News last year.

Wal-Mart has more than doubled the number of items in its online arsenal, jumping from 8 million to 23 million in the past year. Those offerings include items that the store doesn’t stock on its shelves, such as designer labels like Michael Kors, and the company says it will feature around 2,500 deals each day, with some lasting throughout the week.  

Still, Black Friday may still be the most important day of the sales week. Of the more than 150 million people took part in weekend shopping last year, 73 percent of those who shopped in a brick-and-mortar store did their buying on Friday.

For big name retailers, succeeding is a matter of mastering the day on all fronts.

"I said it before and I will say it again: We will win the season on price – on Black Friday, on Cyber Monday, and every day before and after," Steve Bratspies, Wal-Mart’s chief merchandising office, told Business Insider earlier this month. "That means delivering the Black Friday deals we're known for in stores, online, and on our app. And, we've secured significant availability of these items. We pride ourselves on not being the retailer who advertises a great price and then only has a few available."

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