Everything about 2020 has been different. Work looks different. Going to school looks different. Even getting groceries looks different. Of course, celebrating the holidays looks different. Many of the things we have longed considered normal are out the window this year. Instead, we're forced to find creative ways to adapt to a world that looks, well, different.

It makes sense, then, that Black Friday and Cyber Monday would also look very different.

For one thing, the holiday shopping season started earlier than ever this year. Many retailers started their biggest sales early--in some cases, more than a month early--in order to avoid a surge of people showing up on Black Friday.

That's important at a time when people are being encouraged to stay home, or to social distance if they do go out. It's hard to social distance if you're waiting in line to get the best deal on a new TV or gaming console. So, retailers focused their efforts on getting shoppers to take advantage of options like ordering online and picking them up, or having them delivered.

It turns out, that effort worked. 

Adobe Analytics reported data from over one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites, including 80 of the 100 largest retailers in the U.S. That data showed that Black Friday hit a new record for online shopping, with customers spending $9 billion. That's an increase of 21.6 percent compared with last year, and more than any other day except Cyber Monday 2019.

Adobe also expects that today, Cyber Monday, will be the largest online sales day in history, and could see online sales of as much as $12.7 billion. To put the data in context, consumers spent $6.3 million shopping online every minute on Black Friday. That's actually pretty impressive when you consider that many retailers started offering holiday sales as early as the beginning of October. 

Target, for example, started offering early "Black Friday Now" sales that started November 1. Those sales followed up on its "Deal Days," which coincided with Amazon's Prime Day sale in October. Target's efforts, maybe more than any other retailer, have been to get customers to take advantage of in-store and curbside pickup, as well as same-day delivery. According to Adobe, those services increased 52 percent across all retailers on Black Friday. 

In a statement, Taylor Schreiner, Adobe's director of digital insights said: 

We are seeing strong growth as consumers continue to move shopping from offline to online this year. New consoles, phones, smart devices and TVs that are traditional Black Friday purchases are sharing online shopping cart space this year with unorthodox Black Friday purchases such as groceries, clothes and alcohol, that would previously have been purchased in-store.

That's important because it shows that the effort retailers have put in to make it easier to shop--despite a pandemic--have paid off at exactly the time they needed it most. Which is actually an important point. As a business, you can't always control the circumstances that affect the lives of your customers, but you can get creative about making it easier for them to do business with you.

That isn't just true during a pandemic, by the way. Whether it's by providing creative ways to shop, or through great customer experiences, the businesses that make it easy to be their customer are the ones that usually win.

As a final note, Adobe said that 44 percent of consumers say they intentionally shopped small businesses over the Thanksgiving holiday, and plan to continue to do so on Cyber Monday. I mention it because it shows that small businesses are finding ways to compete with the bigger retailers, and their customers are going out of their way to support them. Which, at a time when everything looks very different, is very good news.