How Cyber Monday and Black Friday Look Different This Year

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Experts say the traditional Black Friday is evolving into a more digital, monthlong shopping season.
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The traditional Black Friday as we know it is dying.

The chaotic shopping day after Thanksgiving traditionally known for door-buster deals is steadily being replaced by more convenient online shopping events. Think Amazon Prime Day, Cyber Monday, and the like. 

“I wouldn’t say Black Friday is dead yet. You do still have some people who still want to get up at 5 a.m. to go bargain hunting,” says Jerry Sheldon, a retail analyst at IHL Group, a Franklin, Tenn.-based advisory firm for the retail and hospitality industries. “But you’re going to see a pretty big dip this year. I think that dip is going to continue, and we’re likely to see that Black Friday is dead within four to five years.”

Already, Black Friday is evolving into a month-long event more accurately described as Black November, Sheldon says. And he wouldn’t be surprised if the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season moves closer and closer to the day after Halloween.

To be clear, the demise of a traditional Black Friday isn’t a new concept. 

With the rise of online and mobile shopping over the years, retailers have been increasingly pushing consumers to start shopping earlier by offering deals throughout the season, instead of using Black Friday as the official day to kick off the holiday shopping season. 

“For almost a decade now, the trend has been less in person, more online shopping. Even with my own family, we would go to stores five, six, seven years ago and we don’t do that now. We shop online,” says Tori Dunlap, a millennial money coach and founder of

The pandemic and the surge in online shopping it drove accelerated this trend in a big way in 2020. Roughly 60% of people say they plan to do their holiday shopping online this year, a four percentage point increase from 2019, according to the National Retail Federation’s most recent holiday survey

Between the increase in online shopping, social distancing safety measures, and stores offering more opportunities to save on items, this is a particularly good year to find deals beyond Black Friday. 

Holiday Deals Have Already Started Online

The holiday shopping season is already in full swing, thanks in part to Amazon Prime Day’s shift from July to October this year on account of the pandemic. 

Suddenly, Prime Day wasn’t all alone in the middle of the summer competing for online shoppers. Retail rivals like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and others launched their own online discounts in what turned into an early holiday shopping season kickoff. 

The holiday season seems to be top of mind for many, with 42% saying they plan to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41% in November, according to data from the National Retail Federation. Smart customers will shop early, Sheldon says, and those who don’t or can’t may find themselves not getting their packages in time. 

FedEx and UPS are anticipating intense shipping delays, an approximate “shortfall of as many as seven million packages a day,” according to a recent NBC News report.

“When you have a system that is operating close to maximum capacity, and then you increase volume from 20-30%, the Christmas bump, there will be problems,” says Sheldon. 

But shipping delays are only part of the story. Retailers have had a more difficult time assessing inventory levels and demand this year, with the pandemic putting millions of people out of work, and changing how people think about the holiday shopping season, Sheldon says.

So if an item that’s been selling out quickly is on your wishlist, like the Nintendo Switch or home fitness gear, don’t wait to buy it. 

“We’ve seen how we as a nation react to a toilet paper shortage, so I would shop earlier. Just try to get everything together before it’s the day before Christmas or Hanukkah,” Dunlap says.

Don’t Expect Many Doorbusters or In-Store Deals

Many retailers, like Target, Kohl’s, and Walmart, have said they’ll cut back on hours compared to previous years to diminish lines and other crowds amid COVID-19 concerns. Given these constraints, it’s difficult to imagine in-store shopping as we know it on Black Friday.

Because retailers want to reduce crowding in stores, Sheldon says Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals are expected to be primarily offered online. In general, he expects an increase of up to 30% for online sales during the holiday season with a bump starting earlier than usual. 

With most deals happening online for Black Friday, Dunlap recommends taking advantage of coupon sites like Rakuten and to shop. “These are places that can offer increased discounts on top of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals,” Dunlap says.

Small Businesses May Stick to Black Friday Weekend

While major retailers have already rolled out a lot of holiday deals, many small businesses are likely saving their deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend — especially since Small Business Saturday falls in between them, according to Dunlap.

So if you’re planning to shop local, you may need to alter your shopping strategy and mindset. Look into what small businesses in your community are doing so you can be prepared to take advantage of any deals they’re offering. 

Anticipate items at your neighborhood businesses to sell out quicker and shipping to take longer with small online businesses, especially since there’s been a lot more emphasis on buying local this year, Dunlap says. 

“This is a trend we’ve seen in the past couple of years,” she says, “but I’ve seen a big resurgence in supporting local businesses run by people of color and women because of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, and people kind of avoiding the Amazons of the world.” 

Pro Tip

If you are shopping local, know that merchants may need extra time to ship your goods.

Mostly importantly, try to practice patience with the small businesses where you shop. Normal shipping times for many small online businesses have doubled, Dunlap says.

“They’re under increased pressure now in terms of shipping. They need more time to package goods, and shipping has been really unstable everywhere. Give them a little bit of time and grace,” Dunlap says.

Look Out for Price-Matching and Flexible Return Policies

Because this holiday shopping started early and will likely be dragged out longer, it can be hard to know when you’re getting the best price on what you want to buy. 

That’s where a thing called price match guarantee can come in handy.

Although it’s not a widely-accepted practice, some retailers like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy are offering price match guarantee for certain items this season. That means the retailer will refund you the difference if there’s a price drop on a product you purchased between a certain period of time.

“If you’re buying early and see a product go on sale later, most companies will honor that sale price. Most of the time you can email or message them, so I wouldn’t be super scared of buying things online now,” Dunlap says.

Not every company offers this, and those that do might come with some caveats. For example, Walmart and Target will only match pricing for select competitors and online retailers. Just be sure to do your research before you buy.

But even if a retailer doesn’t explicitly offer price matching, it never hurts to ask for a price adjustment if a product goes on sale shortly after you purchase it, says Dunlap. 

If the retailer won’t budge, you also have the option to return the item and buy it at the lower price. Most of the major retailers are offering flexible return policies through mid-2021, Sheldon says.

Don’t Feel Pressure to Shop This Holiday Season

Deals and promotions this holiday season may be tempting but don’t feel like you have to spend on gifts if you’re struggling to get by right now. 

In general, more than third of Americans are planning to spend less on holiday shopping this year and 66% of shoppers don’t intend to rack up credit card balances because of their holiday purchases, according to a recent NextAdvisor survey.

It’s also important to be careful with buy now, pay later financing options like Affirm, Afterpay, and Klarna. These services let shoppers break down purchases into weekly or monthly installments, often with no interest, rather than pay for them in full immediately, Sheldon says.

But just because they’re available doesn’t mean you should take advantage of them. You don’t want to get yourself in this situation where an expensive holiday gift for your mom is the thing that sinks you into debt.

“If you don’t have the money to buy something that isn’t absolutely necessary, then you probably shouldn’t be buying it,” Dunlap says. “If COVID-19 hit you really hard and you can’t afford gifts, that’s a great conversation to have with your friends and family.”

Dunlap says you don’t have to give someone an actual gift to show you care; acts of service are great holiday gifts, too. That could mean making a family meal or two, or offering to help out with chores around the house during the holidays. 

If you haven’t been financially affected by COVID-19, focus on making a specific plan and budget for this holiday shopping season, Dunlap says.

“Having a budget and sticking to it is really important this year,” he cautions. “Shop when you have that plan together, as opposed to waiting until the last minute.”