Is the Day After Thanksgiving the Busiest Shopping Day in the U.S.?

In an example of real life aligning with popular sentiment, shopping on the day after Thanksgiving — a.k.a. “Black Friday” — surged to put it atop the list of busiest shopping days in the U.S.

It might come as a surprise that this was not always the case; as we noted in 2003:

According to the 44,000 member International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), the day after Thanksgiving is not the hottest shopping day.

The records of the Council say the busiest day is the Saturday before Christmas as last-minute shoppers hit the stores. They figure that the day after Thanksgiving ranks fifth.

It should also be noted that the term “Black Friday” did not originate with happy retailers turning a profit (a.k.a. “going into the black”) from getting more customers right after Thanksgiving. Instead, it was coined by weary police officers. As the Huffington Post reported, it first appeared in a 1966 advertisement that read:

“Black Friday” is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. “Black Friday” officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

The analytics firm ShopperTrak began measuring holiday shopping in 2003, dovetailing with the rise of “Black Friday” in prominence. In 2018 the ICSC reported:

“Our historical analysis indicates that Black Friday is again and has been the biggest shopper-traffic day of the year, and each Saturday in December gets progressively busier as you approach Christmas Day,” said Brian Field, ShopperTrak’s senior director of retail consulting practice. “The Thanksgiving Day weekend — including Black Friday as the busiest day, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 24, as the fifth busiest day — will be a crucial span of days for retailers as they approach the holiday season.”

The other busiest days are, in declining order: Nov. 24 (the Saturday after Thanksgiving), Dec. 8 (the second Saturday in December), Dec. 21 (the Friday before Christmas), Dec. 26 (the day after Christmas), Dec. 1 (the first Saturday in December) and Dec. 29 (the Saturday after Christmas).

Despite the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on on in-person shopping in 2020, ShopperTrak also predicted that year’s “Black Friday” (November 27) would be the holiday season’s busiest shopping day.

Update November 26 2020, 2:04 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here.