Black Friday shopping is changing in the digital age

Americans across the country have been getting emails this week promising “holiday deals you don’t want to miss,” or teasing “everything inside is on sale.” Though these clickbait spam emails are definitely annoying, they may indicate a wider trend in pre-holiday shopping.

The Friday after Thanksgiving has almost become a holiday in its own right; many offices take it off to give employees a four-day weekend. But unlike Thanksgiving — a celebration focused on gratitude and family — Black Friday has garnered a reputation for drastic action and even violence.

For decades, shoppers have considered Black Friday to be synonymous with deals. They have camped out for days to be the first to access a particular sale, and every year it seems retail stores are opening their doors that much earlier to beat out competitors for Black Friday traffic, which now starts on Thursday.

These fiercely competitive environments are breeding grounds for chaos and rage. In fact, there is a website dedicated to documenting deaths and injuries that can be attributed to Black Friday fanaticism. Given how crazy Black Friday can get, it may be really good news to hear that some of that frenzy is being directed online, where no one can be shot or trampled. Here’s a look at how Internet traffic is changing Black Friday into “Black November.”

A month-long sale

Last year, 7 million more people shopped only online than only in stores during the holiday weekend after Thanksgiving, according to the National Retail Federation. But 64 million people did both, meaning that companies who used online platforms and physical storefronts were the real winners of Black Friday.

This year, the National Retail Federation expects 164 million people to shop throughout the weekend. If last year is any indication, a majority of those consumers will spend at least some of their time online, and a good number will avoid the crowds at stores altogether. This means holiday shoppers can expect less stifling environments this Black Friday, and perhaps fewer stampedes?

Part of that is because of how companies are rolling out their Black Friday sales. Many of the major retailers have been running deals all week, or even all month. “Early access” sales have become the new norm, advertising the sale *before* the sale.

All told, Black Friday has entered the technological age, where one day matters less but promotions still matter just as much. That said, Friday itself is expected to attract 116 million shoppers, and it’s still at the forefront of Americans’ minds when they think about holiday shopping. Some of that is tradition, some of it sheer boredom over the holiday weekend. But mainly, it’s because as Americans, we’re always fond of a deal.