The day after Thanksgiving has been dubbed "Black Friday" for decades, but it's only in the last several years that the holiday season gained additional "special" shopping days. The most prominent of these new retail holidays is Cyber Monday, invented -- or at least, first recognized -- in 2005 by the National Retail Federation. The online shopping celebration has been a huge hit, with sales growing by leaps and bounds every year: 2012 sales jumped by between 22% and 30% compared to 2011.
Perhaps inspired by Cyber Monday, a number of organizations and companies have introduced shopping holidays of their own, with mixed success. Here's a full calendar for the 2012 holiday season.
Holiday Shopping Season Calendar: Your List of the Hottest Days to Buy
You probably know this holiday by its original name, Thanksgiving. The new moniker has popped up lately due to the fact that Black Friday sales are increasingly creeping into Thanksgiving, with a few large stores opening as early as 8 p.m. this year. And online sales also abound that day.
Status: We reject the name, but there's no denying that Thanksgiving has become a shopping holiday in its own right. According to the National Retail Federation, a whopping 35 million people shopped online or in stores on Thanksgiving, up from 29 million in 2011. And Experian observed a 6% increase in retail store foot traffic on Thanksgiving.
The original shopping holiday, on the day after Thanksgiving.
Status: Black Friday isn't going anywhere, but it has become less self-contained. It now serves as the centerpiece of a holiday shopping weekend that starts Thursday evening and stretches through Monday. As a result, actual sales figures for that Friday dropped a bit this year, with in-store sales on Black Friday falling by 1.8% versus 2011. But total store visits on Friday rose to 307 million, confirming America's love affair with shopping on the day after Thanksgiving is still going strong.
Most consumers focus their Black Friday shopping on major national retail chains, so in 2010, American Express introduced Small Business Saturday to encourage people to spend the next day patronizing their local small businesses.
Status: This one's a work in progress.
Of course, small businesses will have a harder time capturing the public's attention for their sales events and promotions than a national retailer like Walmart. For now, much of the promotional muscle behind the day comes from American Express, which this year offered a $25 statement credit to customers using their AmEx cards at participating small businesses on Small Business Saturday.
The biggest online shopping day of the year, takes place on the Monday following Black Friday. It features special promotions at virtually every online retailer.
Status: Like the online retail sector as a whole, Cyber Monday just keeps getting bigger. It's still not entirely clear how much year-over-year sales growth we saw on Cyber Monday 2012: Digital analytics firm ComScore saw sales increase by 17%, Chase Paymentech calculated a 22% increase, and IBM thought that it grew by a whopping 30%. Whichever analyst turns out to be closest to the truth, it's clear that the sheer volume of online sales promotions is drawing more customers every year. While we speculated earlier this month that the growing number of online sales on Thanksgiving and Black Friday could eventually take some attention away from Cyber Monday itself, that trend is unlikely to take the wind out of its sails anytime soon.
After an extended weekend dedicated to consumerism, on this day, Americans are encouraged to give to charity.
Status: A work in progress. A joint venture of New York's 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation, Giving Tuesday was introduced this year as a "day for giving back," and it looks to be off to a great start: It boasted more than 2,000 partners, among them charities, schools, religious groups and for-profit businesses that agreed to contribute to at least one charity.
If you're intending to buy gifts for friends and family celebrating Chanukah, it might be helpful to know that it starts fairly early this year. Of course, if it sneaks up on you, you'll still have the other seven nights to get your act together. But if you're the type to put your holiday shopping off until a couple days before Christmas, remember that you may be in the mall a good week after your Jewish friends have put their menorahs away.
Looking ahead to 2013, note that it's going to fall even earlier: The first night of Chanukah will be Wednesday, Nov. 27.
And since we're also getting the latest possible Thanksgiving Day that year -- Nov. 28 -- the Jewish festival of lights will kick off before the official start to the holiday shopping season.
Another online shopping bonanza, Green Monday is the second Monday in December, which is traditionally the busiest online shopping day of that month. The term was coined by eBay in 2007.
Status: Unclear. The traffic numbers are definitely there -- FedEx, for instance, says that it expects this Dec. 10 to be its busiest package delivery day ever. Still, we're not sure that it necessarily deserves to be a "named" shopping day. You won't see nearly as many deals and promotions on Green Monday as you do on Cyber Monday, and last year it ranked behind the previous Monday in total online sales.
The brainchild of Jeanette Pavini of Coupons.com, the name refers to the day that you should visit the post office to ship your last-minute packages. It falls 10 days before Christmas Eve, ensuring that people using the 7- to 10-day ground shipping option will get their packages delivered on time. Pavini adds that this is also a good day to send out your Christmas cards -- while letters will take less time to arrive than packages, waiting much later might mean fighting through big crowds at your local post office.
Status: We'll see: Stamp and Ship Day was just introduced this year.
Free Shipping Day involves (need we say it?) free shipping promotions from a host online retailers, all of which guarantee Christmas Eve delivery for orders placed that day. Luke Knowles, who runs FreeShipping.org and a number of other shopping sites, created it in 2009.
Status: Well-established. In a short time Free Shipping Day has achieved widespread retailer participation: The official site says that it already has more than 950 participating retailers for Free Shipping Day 2012. Expect that number to grow in the coming weeks -- last year it had more than 2,600 retailers on board, and the day saw more than $1 billion in online sales.
What makes the last Saturday before Christmas so "super" are the millions of procrastinators who ensure it consistently competes with Black Friday for the title of busiest shopping day of the year.
Status: The promotions and deals won't be nearly as numerous as on Black Friday. One analyst we spoke to earlier this month suggested that last-minute deals will be harder to come by this year -- retailers are getting better at managing inventory levels, which means they won't have as much excess stock they're desperate to move at the end of the season.
Another innovation of Luke Knowles, this falls on the day after Christmas, and refers to the growing trend of people selling or exchanging gift cards to retailers they don't patronize that they received for the holidays.
Status: A work in progress. Knowles gave a name to the day last year after noticing that Google searches for "gift card exchange" spike on the day after Christmas. A spokesperson says that traffic to GiftCardGranny, a gift-card exchange site owned by FreeShipping.org parent company Kinoli, also saw a big spike in traffic on Dec. 26, 2011.
With a growing number of Americans giving gift cards, more people will find themselves with cards they'd rather turn into cash. While Gift Card Exchange Day hasn't exploded in popularity like Free Shipping Day, we'll undoubtedly see plenty of traffic at gift card exchange sites that day -- which means its a good time for you to get some discounted cards for your post-Christmas bargain hunting.