Black Friday used to mean something in a literal and figurative sense.

The day after Thanksgiving was the traditional kickoff to the holiday season -- a shopping day so big that it pushed retailers from the red and into the black for the year. In addition to being an important day for retailers -- specifically big-box stores including Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)Target (NYSE:TGT), and Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Black Friday was an event for families.

People used to wake up early, plan their day carefully, and hit stores before the sun came up in order to cash in on doorbuster deals. That still happens, but the importance of the actual day has lessened in recent years as many stores, including the three named above, began opening in the early evening on Thanksgiving day.

Now, the importance of Black Friday has taken another hit as both traditional and online retailers have begun offering big deals -- the kind usually reserved for the actual day -- throughout the month of November. These moves may not have dealt the tradition of binge shopping on the day after Thanksgiving a mortal blow, but it's clear that the shopping holiday is no longer what it once was.

Black Friday is no longer the clear start of the holiday season. In many ways, it may be more a nostalgic notion or a broad title given to the season than a specific day where people gorge themselves on discount electronics, clothing, and other sale items.

Wal Mart Holiday

Wal-Mart will still draw a crowd on Black Friday. Image source: Wal-Mart. 

Shopping trends are changing
Facebook 
(NASDAQ:FB) recently released some data that showed consumers' intentions going into Black Friday and how they shopped last holiday season, AdWeek reported. 

The study from the social media site showed that 37% of consumers worldwide said that they will wrap up most of their gift-buying this year before Black Friday. The numbers are even higher in the United States and the United Kingdom, where Facebook found that 50% of people will finish their shopping before the holiday season's traditional kickoff.

Facebook credits this change at least in part to a move toward digital shopping. The social network said 25% of purchases last year came from smartphones, and 53% of those surveyed will shop across mobile, desktop, and bricks-and-mortar stores.

"Last year, mobile commerce hit a tipping point," Ann Mack, head of content and activation for global consumer insights at Facebook, told AdWeek. "Even if people aren't purchasing on those devices, mobile is the constant companion throughout the holiday season."

It's not just Facebook
While the Facebook data suggests the holiday shopping season has moved up on the calendar, the social media site is not the only research that shows Black Friday slipping in importance.

"It isn't Black Friday. It isn't even Black Friday weekend or Black Friday week anymore," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, CNET reported. "This year it's the whole month. It's going to be Black November."

A Nielsen survey conducted in October found that 23% of U.S. consumers began holiday shopping in September. By the end of October, that number climbs to nearly 60%.

NPD backs up Facebook's assertion that digital sales are part of the reason for Black Friday's slow demise.

Two-thirds of U.S. consumers plan to do some of their holiday shopping online, up 12% from 2014, according to the research company

"Consumers don't need to seek the deals out on Black Friday the way they did during past holiday seasons," Cohen said. "The deals come to them early and often."

Competition is fierce
Online deals have helped bring about Black Friday's lessening importance, and they have changed how stores approach the season. Best Buy specifically has been very aggressive in launching pricing early in November that previously would have been reserved for the big day. Wal-Mart and Target are also both already offering some fairly impressive deals, as is Amazon, which will release new, limited-time Black Friday-like deals each day throughout the holiday season.

Of course, while Black Friday has been diminished, and there are deals to be had all season long, the actual day will still be an event. Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy -- even though they will be open on Thanksgiving Day in the early evening -- have still reserved some special deals for what was once the big day.

Black Friday is no longer what it once was, and it may not be the day to get the best deal on many items. Still, at least for now, it remains a big day for shoppers and retailers, even if it no longer determines a store's success or failure for the year.

Daniel Kline owns shares of Facebook. He will do all of his holiday shopping online most likely. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com and Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.