Black Friday is showing signs of gray

For consumers, Black Friday itself is less of a temptation now that retailers are offering the same bargain prices in the days before and after the big shopping event.

Though more accurate, "Black Thanksgiving Week" just doesn't have the same ring to it. David Carnoy/CNET

The bloom may finally be off Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving, which earned a reputation as the biggest shopping day of the year, has always lured price-conscious consumers with the promise of killer deals. But it's just not all that it used to be, now that retailers are starting their big holiday sales during the days leading up to Black Friday, and those following as well.

"This is the first year we're not seeing so much of a focus on Black Friday itself," said NPD tech analyst Stephen Baker. "More and more of the market intensity is being driven to Thanksgiving week."

Or to put it more bluntly: "Black Friday becomes more irrelevant every year," added Forrester's retail analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, in a statement.

So how did Black Friday lose its mojo?

Industry watchers point to a couple of trends. First, in their effort to get ahead of competition amid years of flat sales, retailers have started offering Black Friday deals earlier and earlier. This year, more and more brick-and-mortar stores opened their doors to shoppers on Thanksgiving Day. And many early-bird Black Friday sales were under way as early as Monday, said James Russo, Nielsen's senior vice president of consumer insights.

"This does, to some extent, diminish the relevancy [of Black Friday]," Russo said, adding that the big shopping day will always remain a part of our "cultural DNA," and is still part of a critical sales window, he said. But Black Friday "is certainly no longer the start of the holiday season."

At the same time, more and more people are shopping online, having realized that the comfort of their home beats fighting mall crowds and standing in lines. And, analysts point out, it makes for easier comparison shopping.

Forrester is just one of the many firms predicting strong growth in online sales this season. It expects online holiday sales for November and December to reach $89 billion in 2014, a 13 percent bump from the same period in 2013.

ComScore has already substantiated that forecast with some actual numbers. For the holiday season to date (November 1 to November 23), US consumers have spent $17.5 billion online using desktop computers, marking an 11 percent increase over the same period last year. And marketing software firm Custora conducted a survey finding that between November 1 and November 20, online sales revenue was up 15 percent compared to the same period last year.

Retailers now recognize these online customers are often a different set than those who like the tradition of the brick-and-mortar doorbusters, analysts say. So they have no qualms about running online promotions alongside their brick-and-mortar sales. "There's less at stake," said Forrester's Mulpura, who thinks that Cyber Monday, which comes three days later, has also played a big role in eclipsing Black Friday.

But Baker speculates that, given all the pre-Black Friday sales this week, retailers "can't afford to wait" till Cyber Monday.

Kenshoo CMO Aaron Goldman, whose company is a paid-search partner with Google, Bing, and Yahoo, said, "Paid search spending began to rise nine days prior to Thanksgiving in 2014, four days earlier than 2013, with retailers investing more budget into their paid-search campaigns this year than ever before."

Likewise, Eric Porres, who heads up marketing at ad-tech firm Rocket Fuel, noticed the same trend of retailers offering deals much earlier in the season.

And thus the decline of Black Friday, with big sales sprawling from the Monday before Thanksgiving through to Cyber Monday and beyond.

The black in Black Friday used to refer to the time when retailers finally got into the black -- that is, reached profitability. With deals like those being seen in 2014, you have to wonder if there might be graying on several fronts.

Click here for more of CNET's Black Friday deals coverage.

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