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Online sales knocking out Black Friday

News flash from the shopping mall: The Internet is killing Black Friday. It can’t happen fast enough for me.

Sure, Cyber Monday was big yesterday. But online shopping had been changing the retail game for the entire month of November. E-tailers started to roll out electronic doorbusters at the beginning of last month — grabbing early holiday business and forcing brick-and-mortar competitors to match them.

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By the time Black Friday rolled around, it was no big whoop.

Customers did wait outside Massachusetts stores in the freezing cold Wednesday night for a chance to buy a few “limited supply” steals. But many of those stores that opened at 12:30 a.m. or shortly after drew only modest lines of fanatic shoppers. The action in malls across the state throughout the day was steady but far from crazy.

The National Retail Federation reported a record number of people shopping across the country over the four-day Thanksgiving period. But the amount of money spent — the number that actually means something to retailers — is expected to come in nearly 3 percent lower than the previous year. That has not happened in the eight years the trade group has tracked Black Friday spending.

It didn’t matter how you measured — with nationwide statistics or a collection of anecdotes. You couldn’t miss the sound of Black Friday slowly deflating.

And hooray for that! I don’t want retailers to suffer or people to spend less on holiday shopping.

And I’d bet you a drumstick none of that will happen (most forecasts anticipating modestly higher holiday retail sales this year). But all the hyper-competition online and in stores is stretching the retail calendar in an encouraging way.

Black Friday has been around for a long time — long before it actually had a name.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, featuring Santa Claus bringing up the rear, signaled the beginning of the shopping season as far back as the 1920s.

But retail competition around the day after Thanksgiving really went bonkers at some point in the last 20 years.

Eventually, a manufactured commercial event moved in on America's best holiday like kudzu, and stores were open for business on Thanksgiving Day for the first time last year.

Count me among the people who took that as a dispiriting turn for the worse. Even a handful of retailer executives don’t like it and make a point of keeping their stores closed on Thanksgiving Day, as The Boston Globe's Taryn Luna reported last week.

I’m hoping that the competitive pressure to open on Thanksgiving Day will diminish as Black Friday itself becomes less important year by year.

The point of opening on the holiday was to get an early jump on a blockbuster retail day. That logic will prove to be less compelling every year.

Wall to wall holiday sales promotions at the start of November are here to stay.

If anything, they may begin even earlier in the future. Think of the Halloween candy in the supermarket aisles in August. This is how retailers tend to compete around holidays today, even when the Internet isn’t a big factor.

One thing that won’t change about this holiday shopping season?

The busiest time of all — the final week before Christmas, not Black Friday — will still pack the biggest retail punch. You can count on procrastinators and bargain-hunting holdouts to spend their money in the waning days of the season.

But Black Friday isn’t what it used to be. It will be something much less important 10 years from now. Holiday shopping will look more like a real season with a hectic finish a decade from now.

The Internet has disrupted all kinds of industries and social patterns. Black Friday is just one more on its way to being turned upside down.

The Red Herring

This practically qualifies as news: Biogen Idec Inc. shares did not hit another record high on Monday.

Biogen stock has doubled in value to $70 billion this year, making the Cambridge biotech the most valuable company in Massachusetts.

But the company’s shares have been booming recently, climbing nearly 28 percent since Nov. 7.

Biogen boosted its business forecast in late October thanks to stronger-than-expected sales of its new oral multiple sclerosis drug Tecfidera.

Steven Syre is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at syre@globe.com.
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