Black Friday, the day following Thanksgiving, has traditionally opened the holiday shopping season. The name originated in Philadelphia, to describe disruptive traffic, which occurred the day after Thanksgiving when folks took off from work to shop. That was back in the 1960s. By the mid-‘70s it spread to other large cities as a retail event. Another explanation, given the increased store traffic that particular Friday, it was the point when retailer ledger entries got into black ink.

But in recent years, lack of any real retail differentiation – not to mention the Internet – forced retailers to do something to snare shoppers. In the absence of merchandise differentiation, and the presence of universal low-lower-lowest pricing strategies, retailers started to open earlier on Friday. Most opened at 8:00 AM. Some opened at 6:00 AM. But in 2008 some moved openings to 4:00 AM. Then 2:00 AM. Last year Macy’s, Target, Kohl’s, and Best Buy opened at midnight. This year Wal-Mart opened at 8:00 PM Thursday. But most had begun sales on Wednesday, which waters down the concept and the effect.

According to our annual Holiday Spending Survey, 27% of consumers had already shopped this month. The rest were waiting. Only 6% of consumers were waiting for the traditional Thanksgiving Black Friday. Thirty-six percent (36%) of shoppers indicated they’re waiting till December. And 9% indicated they were actually going to wait until the last two weeks of December to shop, figuring by then the best deals were to be had.

But to quote the President, “It’s arithmetic.” The reality is there is just so much money that the consumer is going to spend for the holidays. OK, some will spend a little more, some a little less, but the survey says… $870.00 on average this holiday season. And while TV news reports play up the crowds and the earlier store openings, traffic is up, but increases in sales not so much. According to the National Retail Federation, the average amount spent by a holiday shopper over the weekend was only up 6%, reflecting precisely the reported increase in total spend found in our survey.

Some 24% of consumers indicated they were going to wait till Cyber Monday to shop – although given mobile outreach today, how could you tell the difference one day to another. Many people shopping online were looking for alternatives to those “door-buster” specials like the advertised 46” flat screen TV for $299 they missed at the 6AM store opening, having also missed the small print that advised each brick-and-mortar store only had five available. Today bricks-and-mortar companies use Cyber Monday to offer even more deals on their online sites.

But there’s no denying that online shopping is on the rise. We estimate that online shopping was up 24% this weekend over last year, and will be higher after yesterday’s numbers, the “official” Cyber Monday figures, are added in.

Given the earlier advertising and store openings, and the massive shifts in technological outreach, maybe we need a new name for this shopping period. How about “Super Cyber Brick-and-Mortar Lowest Prices Shopping Month”? All reasonable suggestions considered.