Why Black Friday Will Be Subdued, and Cyber Monday Will Break Records

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Black Friday has widely been called “the busiest shopping day of the year.” Often, this just isn’t true—the Saturday before Christmas usually yields the most holiday purchases. Quibbles aside, this year, Black Friday is being called something else by retail analysts: “irrelevant.”

Here’s a list of reasons why Black Friday will be less important, if not irrelevant during the course of what’s becoming a longer and longer holiday shopping season:

Holiday promotions start long before Black Friday. Consumers may have groaned in exasperation when stores rolled out their Christmas displays as early as September last year, but “Christmas creep” appears to be here to stay. This year, holiday season layaway promotions were announced around Labor Day.

A new report from RetailMeNot has coined a phrase for the modern-day holiday shopping season: “OctoNovemCember.” Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it does get the point across that Black Friday—once considered the big kickoff for holiday shopping—now falls somewhere in the middle of shopping season for consumers and retailers. Last year, Amazon launched a series of “Black Friday” sales 24 days before Black Friday actually took place.

(MORE: What’s in Store for Holiday Shopping 2012)

Take note that while retailers are introducing holiday sales and promotions earlier and earlier, they may be deals in name only. Thus far in 2012, the sales pumped up as “early Black Friday” specials have been especially underwhelming. Essentially, they’re the regular old weekly deals rebranded with the words “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” to trick shoppers into thinking they’re getting some sort of extra-special deal.

Consumers are shopping earlier. “Nearly 4 in 10 parents with children under the age of 18 (39%) are beginning their holiday shopping prior to November,” the RetailMeNot report states. The Holiday Retail Outlook from Booz & Co. agrees that, regardless of when the best deals are available, shoppers are starting to tackle their holiday lists earlier, which encourages stores to extend the holiday period:

Consumers are increasingly viewing Black Friday as irrelevant: They start looking earlier and buying later, and are moving online. As a result, retailers are discounting even earlier, seeking to convert these early shoppers.

(MORE: Need to Show Off? Top 10 Conspicuously Expensive Purchases)

Showrooming cannot be stopped. It’s widely expected that online shopping growth will soar during the 2012 holidays, with sales increases that far surpass brick-and-mortar growth. There will also be a sharp rise in smartphone-enabled shopping, with consumers using their devices for researching, browsing, and price-comparing anywhere and everywhere. And everywhere includes in physical stores, of course.

“Showrooming,” the term for inspecting merchandise in person in a store before purchasing it from an online competitor, will be more popular than ever—especially on Black Friday, says Booz & Co. chief retail strategist Thom Blischok. “We’re not going to see a huge increase in sales growth for Black Friday this year,” says Blischok. “What we do expect is a lot of ‘showcasing’ on Black Friday. Shoppers will check things out in stores, electronics especially, but then purchase online on the Monday after. Cyber Monday sales will explode this year.”

The economy’s still in bad shape. In its Holiday and Economy Survey, SOASTA, a cloud and mobile testing firm, pointed out one big reason why many of us are hitting the web to shop:

A majority (51%) of Americans will be shopping online this year because of the bad economy.

(MORE: Could ‘Showrooming’ Actually Be Good for Brick-and-Mortar Retailers?)

It’s assumed that it’s easier to find the cheapest prices online, and since the economy is still struggling and most Americans aren’t swimming in disposable income, saving a few dollars here and there remains important. “The reality is that half of Americans do not know where they’re going to come up with the money for Christmas this year,” says Booz’s Blischok, who notes a “significant rise” in what he calls “value-seeking households” due to uncertainty and weakness in the economy.

Black Friday doesn’t have the best prices. Oh yeah, there’s this: While the main supposed draw for Black Friday is good deals and ultra-low priced “door busters,” the consensus increasingly points out that there isn’t a compelling economic reason to set your alarm clock for 3 a.m. and hit the mall to battle crowds first thing the day after Thanksgiving. In its predictions for Black Friday, dealnews first clarifies that it expects that the best prices “will occur during ‘Black Friday Season,’ a dealnews euphemism for mid-November to Cyber Monday.” In other words, the lowest prices won’t necessarily appear on Black Friday itself, and they also won’t necessarily be in-store only—they just as easily could be available online.

Pricing studies that circulated last year also highlighted the fact that Black Friday didn’t offer the best value for shoppers, especially when it comes to popular holiday purchases like electronics and toys. Newly released data from ShopAdvisor likewise indicates that the Black Friday period hasn’t been tops for saving.

(MORE: Increasingly, Black Friday Is a Day to Stay Home, Not Hit the Mall)

“Of the 6 biggest saving shopping days in 2011, none fell on Black Friday or Cyber Monday,” ShopAdvisor reported. Instead, most of the biggest days for discounts took place just after the Thanksgiving weekend—before December 13 of last year. Another monster day for saving occurred just after Christmas, on December 29, which was a Thursday in 2011.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.