There was a time when Black Friday officially began the Christmas shopping season.

Not so now.

More than half of consumers have already started their holiday shopping and nearly a quarter of purchases have already been made, according to the annual survey released this week by the National Retail Federation (NRF) and Prosper Insights & Analytics, at nrf.com.

“This is further evidence that the holiday season has grown far beyond the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Thanksgiving is still a hallmark of the season, and there’s billions of dollars in shopping still to come. But many consumers have already been shopping for weeks, and retailers are increasingly adapting to that.”

The survey reports 56 percent of consumers (asked during the first week of November) had already begun their holiday shopping — about the same as the past few years. That was up from 48 percent who had already started at the same point a decade ago, the website reads.

“Consumers don’t wait for Thanksgiving or Black Friday anymore and neither do retailers,” Prosper Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Retailers responded this year by offering promotions earlier than ever, with some rolling out holiday deals even before Halloween.”

NRF defines the holiday season as November 1 through December 31 and has forecast that sales will total between $727.9 and $730.7 billion. Consumers expect to spend an average $1,047.83 — including purchases made earlier — for an increase of 4 percent over last year, according to an NRF annual survey released in October.

Even with many consumers shopping earlier, NRF estimates that 165.3 million people will shop in stores and online from Thanksgiving Day through Cyber Monday, drawn by good deals, tradition and the social aspects of spending time with friends and family.

Shay said younger consumers are significantly more likely to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend. Among those ages 18-24, 88 percent say they are likely to shop and particularly enjoy the social aspect. Similarly, 84 percent of those ages 25-34 plan to shop. That compares with 69 percent of holiday shoppers overall.

Of those planning to shop, there is an almost even split of people who plan to start their shopping in-store (47 percent) compared with those who plan to start online (41 percent). Those under 25 are even more likely to say they expect to start shopping in-store (52 percent).

Black Friday

Increasingly over the past few years, Black Friday has been sneaking into Thanksgiving Day, whether it be later or overnight hours after dinner is over, or straight up offering shopping opportunities during the traditional turkey day celebration.

“We expect the biggest increase in potential shoppers for Thanksgiving Day this year,” Rist said. “We anticipate that people may head to stores if they are open or shop from their phones while watching football.”

The top reasons consumers are planning to shop include:

The deals are too good to pass up (65 percent)

Tradition (28 percent)

It's when they like to start their holiday shopping (22 percent)

It's something to do over the holiday (21 percent)

It's a group activity with friends/family (17 percent)

Small Business Saturday

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Acting Administrator Chris Pilkerton is encouraging Americans to support local communities by shopping at small businesses Saturday (Nov. 30). Celebrated each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday allows consumers to make a tremendous impact in their neighborhoods by supporting local small businesses. Last year, an estimated 104 million consumers nationwide shopped small on Small Business Saturday.

“Supporting the local economy is the driving force behind Small Business Saturday, and every year the SBA has been proud to rally the community during this vibrant holiday shopping season event,” Pilkerton said. “The SBA helps empower America’s 30 million small businesses by providing them with tools they need to start, grow and expand during the holiday season and throughout the year.”

This year marks the tenth Small Business Saturday, an annual celebration of America’s small business community. Last year on Small Business Saturday, Americans spent a combined $17.8 billion at independent neighborhood retailers and restaurants.

Today, there are more than 30 million small businesses in the United States. About half of all-American workers are either employed by a small business or own a small business. And two out of three net new jobs are created by small businesses. For more Small Business Saturday details, visit www.sba.gov/saturday.

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is an NRF-coined term for the Monday after Thanksgiving, which is seen by many retailers, shoppers and the media as the official kick-off to the online holiday shopping season. CyberMonday.com highlights thousands of offers and deals from more than 900 retailers throughout the holiday season.