What Is Black Friday? Sales Trends

Does Anyone Still Shop on Black Friday?

Santa shopping online on Black Friday
So many holiday shoppers go online instead of visiting stores on Black Friday. Photo: Vstock LLC/Getty Images

Black Friday is November 25, 2016, the day after Thanksgiving. It's traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. It kicks off the critical holiday season. The holiday shopping season is crucial for the economy because around 30 percent of annual retail sales occur between Black Friday and Christmas. For some retailers, such as jewelers, it's even higher -- nearly 40 percent.

Black Friday Sales Statistics

On Black Friday itself, 74.2 million shopped in 2015.

The NRF annual survey said that 99.8 million people would shop. That is the lowest level of Black Friday participation since 2011. Only 87 million shopped in 2014, 92 million in 2013, 89 million in 2012 and 85 million in 2011. 

Nearly 35 million people shopped on Thanksgiving Day. That's more than 25.6 million who went out in 2014. It's still less than the 45 million who shopped in 2013, but on par with the 35 million in 2012. (Source: "Thanksgiving Weekend Shopping Brings Crowds," National Retail Federation, November 29, 2015.  "2015 Thanksgiving Sales Projections", November 20, 2015. "November 2014 Survey." National Retail Federation. "Americans Gobbled Up Thanksgiving Weekend Deals," National Retail Federation, December 1, 2013.)

The number of people shopping over the three-day Black Friday weekend was lower, too. Only 135.7 million said they'd go out, less than the 140.1 million who said they would in 2014.

Spending is down, too. Here's the breakout.

Black Friday Weekend Shopping Statistics

YearWeekend In-Store Shoppers Spent per PersonTotal Spent
2015  102 million (vs 135.7 million forecast)  $299.60 each   N.A.
2014  133.7 million (vs 140.1 million forecast)   $380.95   $50.9 billion
2013  140.3 million  $407.23  $57.4 billion
2012  147 million  $423.00  $59.1 billion
2011  126 million  $398.00  $52.4 billion

Holiday Season Sales Statistics

Black Friday is part of the holiday shopping season. That's the entire months of November and December, according to the National Retail Federation. Here are the past ten years of retail sales data. The average annual increase is 2.5%, thanks to the steep 4.6 percent decline in 2008. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the ten-year average annual increase was 3.5 percent.

Year  Spent per Shopper  Total Spent   Percent Increase 
2005  $734.69  $496.2 billion      6.2%
2006  $750.70  $512.6 billion   3.3%
2007  $755.13  $525.9 billion   2.6%
2008  $694.19  $501.7 billion  -4.6%
2009  $681.83  $503.2 billion   0.3%
2010  $718.98  $529.4 billion   5.2%
2011  $740.57  $553.8 billion   4.6%
2012  $752.24  $568.7 billion   2.7%
2013  $767.24  $584.1 billion   2.7%
2014  $802.45  $608.0 billion   4.1%
2015  $805.65  $626.1 billion   3.0%
2016 (est.)  $938.58  $655.8 billion   3.6%


Keep in mind the NRF's estimate is usually overly optimistic. In 2015, it predicted $630.5 billion, but only $626.1 billion was sold. For that reason, it's likely that 2016 sales will increase less than the forecast. (Source: "National Retail Federation Forecasts Holiday Sales to Increase 3.6%," National Retail Federation, October 4, 2016.

"Retail Holiday Sales Increase 3 Percent," National Retail Federation, January 15, 2016.)

Sales at some department stores fell. For example, Macy's sales fell 4.7 percent at existing stores in November and December. Macy's blamed the weather. More than 80 percent of the decline was in coats, hats, and other cold-weather clothing. Temperatures across the nation were unusually warm due to climate change. Retail analysts pointed to competition from lower-priced online and discount stores. (Source: "Macy's to Slash Costs as Sales Sharply Decline," The Wall Street Journal, January 7, 2016.)

Why Are Sales Down?

What's caused the softening in retail sales? Shoppers are turning away from their previous love affair with credit card debt. Instead, families are more likely to use the money they saved or layaway.

That means 41.9 percent use debit cards, 24 percent use cash, and 2.3 percent pay by check. Only 31.8 percent whip out the plastic to pay for holiday shopping.

Instead of using credit cards, families take advantage of low-interest rate loans to buy durable goods, like washing machines, televisions, and automobiles. For more, see Average Consumer Debt Statistics.

Many families are still concerned about the health of the economy. The government shutdown in 2013 and recurrent debt crises created an air of uncertainty for consumers and businesses alike. Companies hesitated to create full-time, good-paying jobs. Consumers won't spend without the assurance of steady incomes.

Shift to Thrift

The recession created a permanent shift to thrift in retail trends. That's not just a search for the lowest price, but also an interest in finding the best value for the price. The 2014 Black Friday survey showed the same. Nearly half  (47.1 percent) said they looked in advertising circulars for the best deals, 35 percent signed up for retailer's emails, 20.2 percent paid attention to TV commercials, and 21.3 percent relied on word of mouth.

Smartphones and tablets are used much more than in the past to find the bargains. Less than half (45.4 percent) of those who own smartphones, and just about two-thirds (47.4 percent) of those who own tablets, use them to purchase products online.

Gif tcards are becoming more popular. Eighteen percent of holiday shoppers use gift cards. Almost half of people received a gift card on Christmas morning. That's because people are more likely to ask for gift cards than clothing, DVDs, or jewelry. (Source: "Gift Card Statistics," CardCash.com, November 24, 2016.)

Black Friday Hiring

The NRF reported that stores would hire between 640,000 and 690,000 seasonal workers. That's down from the 700,000 workers they said they'd hire in 2015, and the 713,780 they did hire in 2014. 

That's much less than the 764,750 workers hired in 2013. At least it's not as bad as the 263,820 workers hired in 2008. For more, see Holiday Employment

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