Every year, as November draws to a close, millions of Americans gather around their dining room table, thankful for the turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce they are about to scarf down before heading to their holiday shopping sales.

A few years ago, many retail stores pushed the envelope for their Black Friday sales. No longer were they going to open in the wee hours of Friday. Instead, the sales would begin Thanksgiving evening. The decision caused an uproar, especially on social media. It continues to cause an uproar every year as stores continue to open on Thanksgiving Day. Many people loudly proclaim they should keep their doors closed, allowing employees to spend time with their families. Others silently disagree by lining up Thanksgiving evening.

With the added 6 to 12 hours of sales, you would think that retail sales have skyrocketed for Black Friday weekend. The numbers, however, disagree.

The Transition from Black Friday to Black Friday Weekend

It was November 2013. Target announced that instead of opening their doors on Friday morning, they would now be starting sales Thanksgiving evening. That started a frenzy across major retailers. Best Buy, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Macy’s quickly followed suit. They didn’t want to miss out on the crowds and risk having their sales plummet.

Before casting blame on corporate greed, or ignorant Americans, we should look at the real reason stores started to open on Thanksgiving. The reason is that Thanksgiving was already rapidly gaining popularity as a shopping day–online. Online orders that were placed on Thanksgiving Day rose 32% from 2011 to 2012. By 2013, retailers decided to let people come to the store instead of sitting home and adding to their shopping cart. But that still didn’t deter online shoppers. Online orders rose 32% from 2013 to 2014 for orders placed on Thanksgiving Day.

All of these online orders and Thanksgiving Day sales must be a huge boom for the retail economy, right? Not necessarily. Opening up stores on Thanksgiving, it seems, really doesn’t bring in additional revenue.

Black Friday Weekend Sales

It is very clear that online orders are improving. But does that justify opening the store on Thanksgiving to capture even more sales?

ShoperTrak, one of the leading sites dedicated to analyzing consumer spending behavior, has summed it up nicely.

  • In 2011 Black Weekend brought in $21.38 Billion.
  • In 2012 Black Weekend brought in $22.02 Billion. An increase of 3% over 2011.
  • In 2013, Black Weekend Brought in $22.24 Billion. An increase of 1% over 2012.
  • In 2014, Black Weekend Brought in $22.80 Billion. An increase of 2.5% over 2013.

It turns out that as Thanksgiving Day sales are growing rapidly, Black Friday sales are decreasing at just about the same pace.

If you look at those numbers, 2013 (the year when many more major retailers were opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day) saw an increase in Black Weekend sales of just 1%. That number is far less than sustainable growth even without adding a shopping day. In 2014, things looked a little better, but on that year the biggest earner was Super Saturday (bringing in $9.2 billion as opposed to 2014’s $9.1 billion on Black Friday).

It is still too early to determine how retailers opening on Thanksgiving day impacted sales for the 2015 shopping season, but if past years are any indication, it looks that adding a shopping day doesn’t bring in more money.

Spreading Out the Shopping Days

Retailers boast that Thanksgiving was a huge shopping day. What they fail to disclose, however, is that their Black Friday sales are dropping because of it.

From 2013 to 2014, Thanksgiving Day sales rose 23.5% (a $610 million increase). However, from 2013 to 2014, Black Friday sales dropped by 6.8% (a $670 million decrease). Any gains saw on opening day were completely offset by drops on Black Friday.

That analysis is just sales numbers. It doesn’t take into account the enormous costs of opening a store for an additional 12 hours. The primary benefit of opening on Thanksgiving: fewer shoppers out on Black Friday helping to keep the lines shorter.

The Bottom Line

If you’re in search of the best deals, should you head out on Thursday? Get up early on Friday? The answer is none of the above. For the truly best deals, skip the holiday rush altogether.You will save more money by spreading your purchases out throughout the entire year, and shopping when the true sales are occurring. All the sales you find over Black Weekend aren't truly deals (even the doorbusters, most are cheaply made products designed specifically for Black Friday). Some items actually cost more between Thanksgiving and New Years than they do the rest of the year.

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