What Is Black Friday?

Definition & Examples of Black Friday

Black Friday

Chloe Giroux / The Balance

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers typically offer steep discounts on Black Friday to kick off the holiday season.

Learn more about Black Friday and its significance.

What Is Black Friday?

Black Friday is an informal name used to describe the day after Thanksgiving. It's often 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.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 84.2 million people shopped in stores on Black Friday in 2019, and 37.8 million people shopped in stores on Thanksgiving Day. A total of 189.6 million people shopped over the four-day Black Friday weekend in 2019, a 14% increase over 2018. Black Friday wasn't the biggest shopping day of the year in 2019, though. That honor went to Super Saturday, which is the Saturday before Christmas.

How Does Black Friday Work?

Black Friday is part of the holiday shopping season. Having a profitable Black Friday is essential for many retailers, especially toy and game stores. The holiday season amounts to 20% or more of annual sales for many retailers, according to the NRF.

Some retailers start their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day, and deals typically run throughout the weekend. In 2019, shoppers spent an average of $361.90 from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday (the first Monday after Thanksgiving). To put that into perspective, shoppers were expected to spend $1,007 each during the entire holiday season in 2018.

Here are the past 15 years of holiday 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 vs. Cyber Monday

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

Cyber Monday has become a shopping event in itself. It's typically the biggest online shopping day of the year, and it some years it has surpassed Black Friday in terms of total sales. In 2019, Cyber Monday sales totaled $9.4 billion, which outpaced Black Friday's total sales of $7.4 billion.

Black Friday is a popular online shopping day as well. In 2019, 93.2 million people shopped online on Black Friday, compared to the 65.2 million that did in 2018. 

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. Many retailers are seeing sales boosts by allowing consumers to buy online and pick up in-store. More than one-third of consumers were planning to use this option in 2019.

Black Friday Cyber Monday
Refers to sales in brick-and-mortar stores and online Refers to online sales
Busiest shopping day of the year in total shoppers Biggest shopping day of the year in total sales

Key Takeaways

  • Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. Retailers typically offer steep discounts on Black Friday to kick off the holiday season.
  • It's a critical day for the retail sector, as the holiday season accounts for 20% or more of annual sales for many retailers. 
  • Cyber Monday is the Monday after Thanksgiving. Its total sales were higher than Black Friday in 2019. 

Article Sources

  1. National Retail Federation. "Thanksgiving Weekend Draws Nearly 190 Million Shoppers, Spending up 16 Percent." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  2. CNN Business. "The Biggest Shopping Day of the Year Dwarfed Black Friday and Cyber Monday." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  3. National Retail Federation. "Winter Holiday FAQs." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  4. National Retail Federation. “Consumers Will Spend 4.1 Percent More Than Last Year During Winter Holidays.” Accessed July 26, 2020.

  5. Forbes. "Cyber Monday 2019 By The Numbers: A Record $9.4 Billion Haul." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  6. National Retail Federation. "Thanksgiving Weekend Multichannel Shopping up Almost 40 Percent Over Last Year." Accessed July 26, 2020.

  7. Adobe. "Adobe Holiday Shopping Trends," Page 33. Accessed July 26, 2020.