What Is Black Friday? Sales and Trends

How Much Do Americans Spend on Black Friday?

Image shows a shopping cart full of toys and gifts. Text reads: "Origins of the name 'black friday'; the name originates in reference to the volume of shoppers that created traffic accidents and sometimes even violence; as one of the more profitable retail days of the year, black friday began to take on a positive connotation; retailers now offer deep discounts only available on that day"

Image by Chloe Giroux © The Balance 2019

Black Friday is an informal name used to describe the day after Thanksgiving. It's traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year because it kicks off the holiday season. This season is crucial for the economy, especially for some retailers, such as jewelers.

Black Friday Sales Statistics

Thanksgiving and Black Friday are still some of the busiest shopping days for stores.  According to the National Retail Federation, 84.2 million people shopped in stores on Black Friday in 2019, and 37.8 million people shopped in stores on Thanksgiving Day.

In 2018, there were 67 million people who braved the crowds. The next biggest day was Saturday when 47.4 million people went to stores. In total, 165.8 million people went to stores and shopped online over the four-day Black Friday weekend in 2018, fewer than the 189.6 million in 2019. 

More people went online since stores put their best deals on their websites. 93.2 million people shopped online on Black Friday, compared to the 65.2 million that did in 2018. 

Holiday Season Sales Statistics

Black Friday is part of the holiday shopping season. That includes November and December, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). The NRF forecasted that sales would be up 4.1% in 2018. It didn't expect the trade war to cut back on sales because retailers stocked up on inventory. Otherwise, the tariffs would increase on most consumer goods imported from China.

Early reports in 2018 from Mastercard SpendingPulse saw total sales, excluding automobiles, up 5.1% between November 1 and December 24 from the prior year. Consumers spent $850 billion. Online shopping grew 19.1% during that period.

On average, shoppers expected to spend $1,007.24 each. Of that, they'll spend $637.67 on gifts. Another $215.04 will go for food, decorations, flowers, and greeting cards. They'll also spend $154.53 to take advantage of the seasonal deals and promotions.

Here are the past 15 years of retail sales data. The average annual increase is 2.5%, thanks to the steep 4.6% decline in 2008. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the 10-year average annual increase was 3.5%.

Year Spent per Shopper Total Spent Percent Increase
2002 N.A. $416.4 billion 2.1%
2003 N.A. $437.6 billion 5.1%
2004 N.A. $467.2 billion 6.8%
2005 $734.69 $496.2 billion 6.2%
2006 $750.70 $512.6 billion 3.2%
2007 $755.13 $525.9 billion 2.7%
2008 $694.19 $501.7 billion -4.6%
2009 $681.83 $503.2 billion 0.2%
2010 $718.98 $529.4 billion 5.2%
2011 $740.57 $553.8 billion 4.6%
2012 $752.24 $568.7 billion 2.6%
2013 $767.24 $584.1 billion 2.9%
2014 $802.45 $608.0 billion 5.0%
2015 $805.65 $626.1 billion 3.2%
2016 $935.58 $655.8 billion 3.6%
2017 $967.13 $682.0 billion 4.0%
2018 $1,007.24 $717.5 billion 4.3%

Black Friday Hiring

The NRF reported that stores would hire between 530,000 and 590,000 seasonal workers in 2019. 554,000 workers were hired in 2018.

Black Friday Sales and Deals

The best Black Friday deals are, surprisingly, not on Black Friday. Many retailers, including Amazon, offer deals earlier and earlier, upstaging Black Friday itself. The competition this year is so fierce, stores are innovating new ways to get your dollar. 

Research reveals that the most deals for electronics are offered at the end of December. The best day for those is December 22, with an average discount of 27%.

But Black Friday itself is the best day for online deals on TVs, tablets, appliances, and jewelry. The days from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday capture 20% of all holiday online shopping. Use these statistics to get the best Black Friday deals. In addition, don't forget deals offered on Green Monday (usually the second Monday of December). It's the last day to shop online and be sure that your package arrives before Christmas. 

Shift to Online

Stores like Best Buy and Walmart are trying to get Black Friday shoppers into their stores. Although shoppers will never completely abandon brick-and-mortar stores, they expect retailers to offer a convenient online alternative.

Most stores must rally all their skills to convince shoppers to get dressed, get in their cars, and drive to pick up merchandise. As a result, retailers are less likely to build new stores. That hurts commercial real estate, neighborhood shopping centers, and jobs. 

The Bottom Line

Black Friday still garners the largest volume of retail sales in one day. But where those points of sale happen has been shifting dramatically since 2017.

Black Friday sales are seeing more people buying online rather than at brick-and-mortar stores, and the numbers are climbing. Data shows that more people now prefer the convenience of online shopping over the traditional sensory experience of browsing and purchasing at a physical store or mall.

As such, the online shopping movement is a trend to watch. This new direction could greatly affect the real estate market and labor under the retail sector.  

Article Sources

  1. International Council of Shopping Centers. "Black Friday Still Busiest Shopping Day, Study Says." Accessed April 13, 2020.

  2. National Retail Federation. "Thanksgiving Weekend Draws Nearly 190 Million Shoppers, Spending up 16 Percent." Accessed April 13, 2020.

  3. National Retail Federation. "Thanksgiving Weekend Multichannel Shopping up Almost 40 Percent Over Last Year." Accessed April 13, 2020.

  4. National Retail Federation. “Consumers Will Spend 4.1 Percent More Than Last Year During Winter Holidays.” Accessed April 13, 2020.

  5. Mastercard. "Mastercard SpendingPulse: U.S. Retail Sales Grew 5.1 Percent This Holiday Season." Accessed April 13, 2020.

  6. National Retail Federation. "Winter Holiday FAQs." Accessed April 13, 2020.

  7. Adobe. "Adobe Holiday Shopping Trends: Adobe Digital Insights 2019," Page 31. Accessed April 13, 2020.

  8. 3dcart. "What's Green Monday and What Does It Mean for Your Online Business?" Accessed April 13, 2020.