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The Biggest Holiday Shopping Day You've Never Heard Of

Nov 10, 2016
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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Black Friday is old hat. Cyber Monday is passe. The most interesting shopping day of the year is the one you haven't even heard of: It's Green Monday. It's the Monday after the final shopping weekend before Christmas, when frazzled consumers hit the web to snap up the final few gifts on their list before the window closes on the all-important free-shipping offers.

"Every year, more and more people do their shopping online, and Green Monday is becoming one of the most important online shopping days of the year," says Jie Zhang, professor of marketing at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "It's a day that's going to be closely watched."

Called "Green Monday" for the color of money, the day has been playing a larger and larger role each year, as consumer spending continues to gravitate online. According to Internet Retailer, total Internet retail sales grew by 14.5 percent in 2015 from the year prior, while Internet sales during the holiday season grew by an even steeper 20 percent, compared to the year-earlier period. Industry group eMarketer predicts that holiday online sales will climb 17 percent this year, to $94.7 billion.

Online retailers are bracing for the surge. E-commerce giant Amazon.com began offering its pre-Black Friday deals at the beginning of November, perhaps trying to elongate the shopping and shipping season to avoid a repeat of the distribution bottlenecks it experienced a few years ago. The hold-up meant that some customers didn't get their holiday gifts on time.

Green Monday still lags the season's biggest cyber-shopping days, but that could change as retailers maneuver to meet the needs of a shopping populace with increasing online demand. Last year, Cyber Monday brought in $3.07 billion in sales, followed by Black Friday with $2.74 billion. Green Monday saw an estimated $1.41 billion, up a whopping 31 percent from the year earlier.

There's a lot of room for growth in e-commerce. Online holiday sales still account for only 10.7 percent of total holiday retail sales. And that's why Green Monday is the day to watch, says Zhang, the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management. As online shopping matures, and as retailers tune into the needs of the frantic final-weekend holiday consumer, Green Monday is poised to grow.

What about those other notoriously shop-tastic retail days?

Thanksgiving: It turns out all the massive inconvenience of pulling retail sales workers away from their dinner tables so they can restock $10 DVDs and price check "Elf on a Shelf" dolls didn't exactly prove itself worthwhile for some companies. CBL & Associates Properties, one of the largest owners of U.S. malls, electronics chain HH Gregg, and Minnesota's landmark The Mall of America, are among the retailers opting to remain closed on Thanksgiving Day this year, having experimented in recent years with Thanksgiving Day hours. 

For many retailers, Thanksgiving Day hours didn't make a dramatic improvement on revenue for the season. Its major impact was in siphoning sales away from Black Friday, the much-hyped, former star of the holiday shopping season.

"Opening stores on Thanksgiving Day isn't cheap," Zhang says. "Stores have to be sufficiently staffed for big crowds, and that means lots of payroll costs."

Outdoor sports hub REI will keep its doors closed on Thanksgiving — and on Black Friday — for the second-straight year. Its website will also take the two days off, in a deliberate stance against the shopping holiday pandemonium.

Target and Wal-Mart have not yet committed to being open on Thanksgiving, but there are expectations that both will. "Last year, it really helped Wal-Mart," Zhang says.

Black Friday: It's still the signature shopping day of the year, though it's expected to rank as only the third-biggest shopping day this year for brick-and-mortar stores, according to industry tracker RetailNext Inc. "Black Friday still plays a significant role, but it's a symbolic one," Zhang says.

Consumers — even those who stridently avoid the Black Friday mayhem — make judgments about which stores will give best discounts based on the sales they roll out on those critical shopping days and the publicity the sales generate. If store hours are altered to be more competitive, that also sends a message that this store is willing to pull out all the stops to jockey for shopper attention. 

It sends a message to Wall Street as well, where the perception of a successful holiday shopping season can help boost share prices. The day is dubbed "Black Friday" for the significance it long played in retail circles. For years, it was the busiest shopping day of the year and a turning point for retailers — the day when store balance sheets would turn from "in the red" on the year, to "in-the-black," or in a profitable position.

Cyber Monday: The Monday after Thanksgiving was a web pioneer and remains a dominant player in e-commerce sales. Consumers, energized by the start of the holiday shopping season, would jam a few gift-giving errands into their day at the office, giving a yearly jolt to online stores. When retailers noticed the annual uptick in traffic, they branded the day as Cyber Monday, and began vying for clicks and credit cards, touting the day's online bargains alongside their other promotions. 

Whether the day plays a significant role this year could depend on how deep the discounts are, and how well they are promoted. There are more people shopping online these days, but they're making purchases over a longer stretch of days, not homing in on certain sale days or hours.

Super Saturday: Traditionally, the Saturday before Christmas is the ultimate shop-while-you-panic day. For many people, it's the final chance to pick up those last remaining items, while swearing that next year, you are going to be way more organized. (Of course you will.)

This holiday season, industry watchers are expecting the biggest shopping day of the year to be Friday, Dec. 23, since the Saturday before Christmas is actually Christmas Eve. If you do go to the malls on Friday, Dec. 23, expect that there will be lots of people, lots of chaos, and not a lot of available parking. "That's why people like Green Monday," Zhang says.

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.