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Cyber Monday vs. Black Friday: Experts compare the deals

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two of the most anticipated shopping days during the holiday season, but can you find better sales and deals during one versus the other? Experts weigh in.
Woman shopping online and opening boxes
Cyber Monday claims the top spot when it comes to e-commerce spending, but Black Friday is narrowing that gap.Kara Birnbaum / NBC News

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are synonymous with big sales and “doorbuster” deals to kick off the holiday shopping season — some even start before the Thanksgiving leftovers are put away. Black Friday deals started in October this year, while Cyber Monday sales can extend a whole week with additional sales online. And in recent years, the line between the two days has blurred: Black Friday sales can be found online as well as in stores and Cyber Monday deals don’t have to be virtual-only.

But which day typically has the very best deals? To help you navigate the remainder of these shopping days and make sense of the huge number of sales, Select asked retail experts about the differences between Black Friday and Cyber Monday — and the types of deals you can typically score during each one.

Black Friday versus Cyber Monday: What’s the difference?

Black Friday originated decades ago as a way to lure shoppers — many of whom had the day after Thanksgiving off — into stores. Cyber Monday, coined by the National Retail Federation (NRF) in 2005, was created as a virtual “alternative to the madness” of large crowds and long lines. It was also a way for retailers to prolong the shopping “demand and urgency,” with additional deals online just as people went back to work, according to Jessica Young, director of research data at Digital Commerce 360.

So is one generally better than the other when it comes to deals?

While Cyber Monday edges out Black Friday for the highest overall discounts online, according to Young, over the past few years, deals online and in-stores have been nearly identical during both shopping holidays, said RetailMeNot editor Kristin McGrath. “The only strategic reason to shop in stores is if something — like a gaming console — sells out online, but a nearby store has some in stock,” she said.

Beyond that, retailers generally launch their online Black Friday deals months before Thanksgiving, giving online shoppers a jump-start. And a particular appeal of Cyber Monday lies in its convenience, like the ability to add an item to your cart and check out in minutes while sitting on your couch.

Black Friday, on the other hand, has the holiday factor. “Since Cyber Monday occurs during a typical work week rather than a holiday weekend, employees may have to squeeze their shopping around their lunch hours or breaks,” said Carol Kaufman-Scarborough, a former professor of marketing at the Rutgers School of Business-Camden.

What should you buy on Black Friday vs Cyber Monday?

The categories that dominate on Black Friday and Cyber Monday are almost always the same, according to McGrath.

“Tech, home, beauty and clothing reign supreme the entire weekend,” she said, adding that shoppers can expect great deals on TVs, toys, gaming consoles and appliances this year. (The main categories that saw the strongest discounts during both Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year were electronics, computers, appliances, sporting goods and toys, according to Adobe Analytics.)

The variation among the sales on these days is minimal; the exceptions may be big ticket items like televisions, electronics and appliances. “Cyber Monday will offer TV deals as well, but many retailers stick to the tradition of Black Friday TV doorbusters and really pump out those deals on Black Friday,” McGrath said.

If you’re shopping for laptops and PCs, clothing, travel supplies and online subscriptions, you're likely safe — and possibly even better off — waiting until Cyber Monday, according to McGrath. There are usually a few unique Cyber Monday tech deals on Apple Watches and Nintendo Switch gaming bundles to help shoppers keep up their buying stamina, but otherwise, retailers will “replay their [Black Friday] deal playbook on Cyber Monday,” she said.

Some brands and products are practically guaranteed to see discounts on both days, including Apple AirPods, Instant Pot products, Amazon-branded smart home products, Google smart home products and Apple Watches.

It’s also worth noting that this year, many retailers have excess inventory. That’s “a real pendulum shift from 2021, when supply chain issues meant retailers couldn’t keep enough products on the shelves and shoppers were plagued by out-of-stock notices during the holidays,” Young said, which led to higher price tags. In 2022, experts expect retailers to continue playing on the fear of shipping delays, but shoppers shouldn’t be fooled and jump at weak deals, said Young — the quality of deals should be better this year.

When do Black Friday deals start?

The sales have already started, and experts recommend doing your shopping early rather than waiting until Cyber Monday.

“If an item is on sale during Black Friday, and the price is good, buy it. Think of Cyber Monday as a second chance to snag items that sold out during Black Friday sales — because retailers generally repeat their deals, you're limiting yourself if you wait until Cyber Monday,” McGrath said. Plus, some retailers like Target and Best Buy offer price-matching during the holidays, just read the fine print, as some retailers exclude Black Friday pricing or only price match for certain competitors.

Shoppers’ preference for early holiday shopping spurred the earlier and earlier holiday sales: So far, we’ve already seen pre-Black Friday sales from top retailers including Amazon, Target, Best Buy and Walmart in October.

“October is the new December as 56% of consumers tell us they already started shopping this month instead of waiting until later in the season or for major holiday shopping days,” said McKinsey & Company’s Kelsey Robinson, senior partner who focuses on marketing strategies, and Tamara Charm, partner who analyzes consumer insight and sentiment, in a joint statement. Personalized promotions earlier in the season also help retailers differentiate themselves from the competition, they said.

What deals are worth waiting for?

You’ll commonly see retailers advertising a few "extended" deals and promising "one more day" of sales post-Cyber Monday, but they won’t typically launch brand new deals at that time, according to McGrath. Instead, “you're more likely to find a retailer offering some extra time on a promo code or the roster of deals it launched on Cyber Monday,” which means shoppers shouldn’t hold out for better deals, she said.

However, you can benefit from waiting for Cyber Monday when it comes to fashion.

“Clothing retailers often trot out sitewide promo codes for Cyber Monday,” said McGrath. She added that waiting for Cyber Monday could benefit shoppers looking “for clothing in general, rather than a very specific pair of boots,” for example. And if you’re very flexible about your gift purchases, shopping later in December can also be strategic — “that's when retailers will unload holiday items, games and toys,” she said.

How much do people spend?

Cyber Monday typically outperforms Black Friday in terms of sales: Black Friday raked in $8.9 billion in 2021, while Cyber Monday hit $10.7 billion, according to data from Adobe Analytics. Young noted that Cyber Monday will once again continue to beat out other major shopping holidays this year, including Amazon Prime Day and the retailer’s Prime Early Access Sale — and it’s likely to remain the biggest online shopping day of the year.

While Cyber Monday claims the top spot when it comes to e-commerce spending, Black Friday consistently narrows that gap as the number of online Black Friday sales increases exponentially. Black Friday 2020 was the second largest online spending day in U.S. history after Cyber Monday, according to Adobe. And Black Friday beat Cyber Monday as the busiest day for online shopping in the U.S. last year, with 88 million shoppers browsing online deals the Friday after Thanksgiving compared with 77 million on Monday, according to data from the NRF.

Data also shows that the interest in online shopping during Thanksgiving and Black Friday — and the weekend following — has been trending upward in the past few years. Interest in sales the week after Cyber Monday, aka, “Cyber Week” or “Cyber 5,” however, is lessening in the grand scheme of the season, Young said. Digital Commerce 360 estimated Cyber Week’s share of total online spending for the season was approximately 21% in a pre-pandemic 2019. “That dropped to 18% in 2020 and fell again to 16% in 2021 as gains in e-commerce pre-holiday sales started earlier in the year and spread out more [into] ‘less-marketed’ days of the season, or crept into October,” Young said.

In 2020, online shopping reached its peak in large part due to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on buying behavior: Shoppers shifted to the web, skipping holiday weekend store visits entirely or opting for omnichannel services like curbside pickup that limited shoppers’ exposure to others. But shoppers returned to stores in a big way in 2021 following the Covid hiatus, which fueled a 14.5% spike for in-store sales year over year during the November through December period, according to data from Digital Commerce 360. Approximately 104.9 million shoppers visited retail stores in-person during these shopping holidays last year, up from 92.3 million in 2020, the NRF reported. At the same time, the overall number of online shoppers also decreased, with a total of 127.8 million people shopping between Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday in 2021 compared to 145.4 million the previous year.

In-store shopping is expected to perform well again in 2022, according to Young, as people go back to pre-pandemic holiday traditions.

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