Black Friday Results Are In: The Centerpiece of a Huge Multiday Bricks-and-Clicks Shopping Spree

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If retailers were concerned solely with in-store sales on Black Friday, then Black Friday 2012 was something of a dud. But the idea of Black Friday has expanded far beyond the day itself, as has the traditional in-store experience.

The retail research firm ShopperTrak estimates that shoppers spent $11.2 billion at physical stores on Black Friday. That represents a 1.8% decline from Black Friday 2011. Does this mean the importance of Black Friday to retailers is on the decline?

Not remotely. What’s happened is that Black Friday has grown so big that it cannot be contained in a single 24-hour period, and its sales and promotions are no longer limited to the stuff displayed on shelves and racks at the mall. Today, Black Friday begins Thanksgiving morning (if not earlier), when retailers flood e-mail subscribers with special online shopping offers. It stretches on to Thanksgiving night, when stores open their doors for Black Friday door busters several hours before Friday arrives. All through the long holiday weekend, the stream of sales and promotions continues, encompassing every mode of shopping known to man.

As the Associated Press reported, in-store sales on Friday itself fell, naturally enough, directly as a result of so many stores opening on Thanksgiving night. Because shoppers were whipping out credit cards and cash at Target, Walmart, Toys “R” Us and elsewhere Thursday night, they probably weren’t loading up their shopping carts the following morning.

(MORE: This Is Your Brain on Black Friday Shopping)

Nonetheless, consumers were out in full force on Friday. According to ShopperTrak, foot traffic in stores rose 3.5% over Black Friday 2011. Why weren’t sales up on this day as well? As mentioned, Thanksgiving-night sales probably stole sales from Friday. The Internet appears to have stolen quite a few sales too.

According to National Retail Federation data, 27% of consumers shopped online on Thanksgiving, and 47.5% shopped online on Black Friday. IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark reported that the percentage of consumers using mobile devices to visit retailer websites is up to 28%, compared with 18% in 2011; that online sales on Thanksgiving 2012 rose 17.4% over last year’s Turkey Day; and that Black Friday’s online sales were up 20.7% vs. last year’s. The research firm comScore offered an even higher estimate: that Friday’s online sales were 26% higher than Black Friday 2011’s and that for the first time ever, the e-commerce totals for Black Friday topped $1 billion.

What’s amazing is that we haven’t seen anything yet in terms of e-commerce. Cyber Monday is expected to easily trump Black Friday in terms of online sales. Though Cyber Monday is only a half-dozen or so years old, the day has come to hold huge expectations — from shoppers and retailers alike. Consumers anticipate the kinds of 40% off (if not better) deals that popped up over the weekend. Judging by the weekend’s curiously mixed data of increased foot traffic and lower Black Friday sales, it seems as if many shoppers were at the stores just to showroom — scoping out merchandise in person before ultimately purchasing the goods online on Cyber Monday.

(MORE: The Hottest Section of the Department Store May Be Online)

Just as Black Friday has evolved into a gigantic multiday, multichannel shopping affair, the concept of shopping for holiday gifts during the days after Thanksgiving has morphed into a time for all sorts of shopping, for gifts and nongifts alike. In an NRF survey, 80% of consumers said they’d taken advantage of retailer nongift promotions over the weekend. Translation: all those sweaters, TVs, video games and home appliances purchased aren’t necessarily going to wind up under Christmas trees.