Instead, masked shoppers quietly lined up Friday morning in front of big retailers across the country, turning up in smaller numbers as early online deals and concern about the COVID-19 spike dulled enthusiasm for trips to the mall.
Buffalo, New York resident Erin Browning is enjoying the change.
"I'm liking it more this year because of the crowds, you don't have to battle the crowds."
Retailers transformed the traditionally busy shopping day that comes the day after Thanksgiving, employing new measures amid the pandemic including temperature checks, curbside pickup, and in-store traffic cops.
That's as retailers from Target to Kohl's and Walmart rolled out online winter holiday promotions in October to capture holiday-related spending as early as possible.
Blake Devillier, vice president of stores for Old Navy on the East Coast, has noticed the difference.
"So customers are choosing to shop online. They're choosing to shop via our app. They're choosing to shop in stores as well. We also started our promo earlier this year to accommodate customers and to try and spread out some of that customer traffic over a wider period of time."
Adobe Analytics expects Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2020 to become the two largest online sales days in history, with Black Friday online sales between $8.9 billion and $10.6 billion.
Despite economic challenges nationwide, the National Retail Federation forecasts U.S. holiday retail sales will increase between 3 and 6% over 2019.
That compares with an average annual increase of 2.5% over the past five years.
Taylor Schreiner, director of Adobe Digital Insights, says that's a big deal.
"To put that in perspective, we're forecasting $189 billion for the entire holiday season, which represents about two years' worth of growth happening just this holiday."