Everything You Need to Know about Black Friday Shopping

Stats on Shoppers, Spending, Purchases, and Motives

A man carries shopping bags on Black Friday. Get the facts on Black Friday 2016 here.
28th Nov 2014 - Man with shopping bags on Black Friday sales at Macy's Department Store in The Manhattan Borough of New York, New York, USA. Zoran Milich/Getty Images

In 2016, more than 154 million people in the U.S. shopped in stores and online over the Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey commissioned by the National Retail Federation (NRF). That's more than 60 percent of the nation's total population of adults. The NRF data indicates that nearly 100 million people shopped in stores over the holiday weekend while 108 million shopped online, and some, of course, did both.

The NRF survey results show that Black Friday shopping appeals more to Millennials—adults aged 18 to 34 years—than it does to others. They were more likely to shop over the holiday weekend, and they were more likely to shop for themselves (doing more of their shopping online than in person).

And they say that baseball is the ultimate American pastime? In a consumerist culture, it's shopping.

How Much We Spent

The average shopper spent about $290 dollars over the three-day period, according to NRF, down ten dollars from 2015. ShopperTrak estimates that this resulted in $12.1 billion dollars spent over Thursday and Friday, with the majority of it, $10 million, spent on Black Friday. According to Adobe Insights, $5.2 billion was spent online during this two-day period.

According to Mindshare, online sales for the four-day period of November 24-27 broke records, with total spending of $9.36 billion, which represents more than a 16 percent increase over 2015. Shoppers spent more online than ever on Black Friday, at more than $3 billion.

Not to be outdone, Cyber Monday broke previous records as well, with consumers spending $3.4 billion in one day, according to Adobe Insights. This was not only a 12 percent increase over Cyber Monday 2015, it is also a figure that makes Cyber Monday 2016 the most lucrative online retail day in history.

Who Spent the Most

Contrary to the stereotypical image of women as shopaholics, it was actually men who spent the most on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Mindshare reported prior to the shopping events that men surveyed anticipated spending nearly 69% more than the average woman, or $417 compared to $247.

Mindshare's survey also showed that it was older adults, those aged 35-54 who intended to spend the most of any age group, at an average of $356 per person. Millennials, however, were right behind them at a projected $338.

This level of spending among Millennials, considerably higher than the average for all shoppers, might strike some as curious, or even selfish, given that they were more likely to shop for themselves than other age groups. It's worth noting that Millennials have struggled financially during early adulthood in ways that previous generations have not, thanks in part to the Great Recession and to the ever-soaring mountain of student debt. Due in large part to these and other economic factors, Millennial adults are more likely to live at home with their parents than any other previous generation of young adults since 1880. For these reasons, it's quite likely that many among this age group use the opportunity of Black Friday discounts to purchase necessities or minor luxuries that they can't otherwise afford.

How and When They Shopped

Though many likely think of Black Friday and the entire Thanksgiving weekend as a frenzy of shoppers battling for deals at big box stores across the country, NRF data show that more people actually shopped online than in-store this year. Over the holiday weekend, online shopping was at its peak on Black Friday, until, of course, Cyber Monday rolled around.

The vast majority of in-store shopping took place on Black Friday too, but again, bucking the stereotypical image, most people did not line up early or camp out for Thanksgiving or Black Friday deals. Only a small fraction of shoppers did this, and it turns out that they are more likely to men and to be Millennials. Mindshare notes that both groups were looking for specific deals on these days, and that they expected the in-store deals to be better than those found online.

Where They Shopped and What They Bought

The NRF found that more than half who went out to shop over the holiday weekend visited a department store like Macy's and Nordstrom, and more than a third shopped at discount stores like Walmart or Target. Slightly less than a third visited an electronics store, and about 28 percent shopped at a store for clothing or accessories. One in four holiday shoppers visited a grocery store or supermarket.

The NRF reported that clothing and accessories led as the most popular gift items among those surveyed, with toys in second place. Electronics, books, CDs, DVDs, videos and video games, and gift cards rounded out the most common items that shoppers intended to buy as gifts.

Online shoppers flocked to electronics items, including Samsung 4K televisions, Apple's iPad Air 2 and iPad Mini, Microsoft's Xbox One, and Sony's Playstation 4, according to Adobe Insights.

Likely an indication of why men planned to spend more than women during the holiday shopping extravaganza, Mindshare reported that men were more likely than women to buy big-ticket items, including cars and auto parts, electronics, and video games. Women, on the other hand, reported plans to buy clothing and other fashion items, electronics, and toys.

Among the toys sold online during Cyber Monday, Adobe Insights reported that Lego sets were the most popular item, followed by Shopkins, Nerf, Barbie, and Little Live Pets.

Why They Went

Unsurprisingly, the NRF-commissioned survey found that half of all in-store shoppers said they had gone out on Thanksgiving and the subsequent days because "the deals were too good to pass up." And it was women, more so than men, who were motivated to shop by a desire to find the best deals and discounts, according to Mindshare. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to be out shopping for specific items.

The vast majority of those polled by NRF—about 3-in-4—shopped in order to buy gifts for others.

Interestingly, from a sociological standpoint, NRF found that a third of in-store shoppers reported that they shopped because it was "tradition," and a quarter said they did it because it gave them "something to do" over the holiday weekend. And that, folks, is the very definition of consumerism.