And how is it different from Black Friday? Get all the answers here.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
We're just a few weeks away from Thanksgiving, which means we're also counting down to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest shopping days of the year. The dates, just so you can mark your calendar, are as follows: Black Friday is Nov. 27; Cyber Monday, Nov. 30.
But what's the deal with these two, anyway? They're just big sales that bookend the holiday weekend, right? Actually, there's a bit more to the story.
Watch this: How to win Black Friday in 2020
When did Cyber Monday start?
It's hard to believe, but Cyber Monday dates back to just 2005. Back then, before it was natural to order anything and everything online, shoppers still needed encouragement. Online stores began running their own big sales to compete with the brick-and-mortar juggernaut that was Black Friday.
Why "Cyber Monday"? Because in the old days, the internet was often referred to as "cyberspace." Quaint, no?
Why Monday and not Saturday? Because it turns out people like to shop while they're at the office, using fast computers and high-speed connections. (Remember, once upon a time, most people had only dial-up modems at home.) In the early days of online shopping, Monday proved a lucrative day for online stores -- so they embraced it.
Black Friday's origins are somewhat nebulous, with a fairly apocryphal theory the most widely believed: Because the day after Thanksgiving was typically a day off, it allowed Christmas shoppers to get a jump-start on their gift buying. Retail stores took advantage of this opportunity by holding major sales, which in turn helped them tip their annual sales numbers into "the black" (meaning out of "the red," which is accounting parlance for losing money). It certainly sounds plausible enough.
But the real story is different. According to History.com, the Philadelphia police force used the term "Black Friday" in response to the chaotic traffic caused not by big sales, but by massive attendance for the Army-Navy football game held annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. (Apparently everyone came to town a day early.) It was only in the 1980s that retailers began to truly embrace the day for sale purposes.
Yes and no. Black Friday was born at retail. Cyber Monday was the online world's answer. So, in the beginning, you'd hit the stores on Friday, then hit cyberspace when you were back at work on Monday.
Now, Black Friday is as much an online event as it is a brick-and-mortar one -- arguably even more so, especially this year. Although plenty of stores still run "doorbuster" sales that require shoppers to actually show up (check out this Kohl's ad from 2017, for example), the online world has fully embraced Black Friday.
But it doesn't really go the other way: Brick-and-mortar sales typically run on Friday and that's it. Cyber Monday is almost exclusively an online "holiday." The deals may also differ as a way for retailers to keep different deals feeling fresh.
Which day has the better deals?
It depends on what you're looking for. The aforementioned doorbusters will typically exceed anything you'll find online, whether on Friday or Monday, because stores are willing to break even or even lose money on a product in order to get you in the door, where it's presumed you'll also be more likely to buy other goods and gifts.
That said, modern shoppers tend to prefer online shopping, and while the deals themselves might not be quite as good on Cyber Monday as on Black Friday, the former tends to drive more actual revenue for sellers. In 2019, Cyber Monday sales hit $9.4 billion in the US, a new record and a major increase over 2018. It also edged out Black Friday's $7.4 billion, which was also a record. Whether that will hold in 2020, when retail shopping is an entirely different affair, remains to be seen.
Watch this: Tricks to score extra savings on Black Friday and Cyber Monday
What's more, doorbusters typically require standing in line, fighting crowds and a limited amount of inventory -- often for a comparatively modest savings. So the "better" deal might be the one that requires a few clicks instead of a few hours, even if it means spending more.
What you should know about both days
Don't get caught up in the hype. Stores pull out all the stops to make you experience FOMO: fear of missing out. "Best prices of the year!" "This sale will not be repeated!"