Retailers and consumers may be gearing up for two of the most important shopping days in the holiday shopping season, but this year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are more ceremonial than ever.

According to IBM, sales the weekend before Thanksgiving were 12.1% higher than they were last year. Custora says that ecommerce revenue in the U.S. for its Holidata panel rose 12.8% year-over-year for the period of November 1 through November 22 thanks to a 12% rise in overall transactions.

On your mark, get set, gone

That consumers are spending more before what has traditionally been considered the official start of the holiday shopping season is not the product of accident.

As Internet Retailer's Stefany Zaroban detailed, a growing number of retailers launched early promotions this year in an effort to ensure that they don't get left in the dust by other retailers that are launching earlier and earlier promotions.

Zaroban pointed to online retailer UsTrendy, which held a "Pre-Black Friday Sale." According to CEO Sam Sisakhti, UsTrendy was hurt in the past by launching its sales too late, and it has realized significant gains by starting earlier this year:

Last year, we started our sales two days before Black Friday but we were still a little too late because we didn’t do as well as the year before when we didn’t have many discounts at all. This year, we launched discounts a week before Black Friday to our subscribers, and sitewide discounts on the Monday before Thanksgiving. We think word of mouth is spreading because direct traffic is way up, and conversion is up 40%.

Other retailers are adapting non-traditional strategies. On Tuesday, Kohls announced what it calls its "Cyber Week Spectacular," which consists of "eight days of deep cyber savings" that will begin on Saturday, two days before Cyber Monday, and run through December 5.

The largest retailer in the U.S., Wal-Mart, has also decided not to launch its Cyber Monday sale on Monday; its online promotions will begin Sunday evening.

black friday walmart

Wither Black Friday, Cyber Monday?

With many brick-and-mortar retailers opening their doors on Thursday and online retailers starting sales well before Monday, it's only natural to ask: are Black Friday and Cyber Monday still meaningful?

On one hand, these dates retain consumer mindshare, and significant sales still occur on these dates, so it would be premature to declare their demise. On the other hand, it is obvious that they are no longer the make-or-break dates they used to be.

The holiday shopping season is longer than ever before, complicating matters for retailers, but also giving them a lot more flexibility and creating opportunities for them to differentiate themselves and succeed with non-traditional approaches. Perhaps the best example of this is American retailer REI, which will keep its stores closed on Black Friday as part of its Opt Outside campaign.

Retailers like REI, Kohl's and UsTrendy are treating the holiday shopping season like a marathon and not a sprint and as stats from Black Friday and Cyber Monday come in over the next week, it will be important to keep in mind that the holiday shopping season has already started in earnest and will continue in earnest until Santa Claus makes his way down the chimney.

Patricio Robles

Published 26 November, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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