With Black Friday being around the corner, we already know what to expect: ‘40% Off’, streets filled with consumers, ‘60% Off’, some doorbuster drama and ‘80% Off’.

But how did we end up here?

Why is Black Friday ‘black’?

When did it become about sales?

How did shopkeepers and police officers compete unofficially for the name?

And why is it on a Friday anyway?

Here is the Black Friday history.

Why is it a ‘Black Friday’?

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving.

Therefore, to answer why Black Friday is on a Friday, we should first explain why Thanksgiving is on a Thursday.

Thanksgiving began in the early 17th century. It as a day devoted to giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and the preceding year.

J.A. Brownscombe: The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

However, prayers and ceremonies as a public religious demonstration of piety had a hard time becoming a national holiday in a country based in part on the separation of church and state – that is the US.  As such, Thomas Jefferson believed that it shouldn’t be a national holiday. And so, the celebration date was different from state to state.

Nationalisation of the holiday didn’t come until A. Lincoln’s era, in 1863. Influenced by the 40-year campaigning of author Sarah Josepha Hale, President Lincoln made a proclamation marking Thursday, November 26, 1863, as Thanksgiving. He called upon his countrymen to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise”. In practice, due to the ongoing civil war, the nationalisation was completed in the 1870s.

Our Black Friday history continues two centuries later, in 1939, on the tale-end the of Great Depression. It was when President F.D Roosevelt tried to change that day. Roosevelt was looking for ways to boost the economy by extending the holiday shopping period, creating more chances for shopping by one week, etc.

FDR carves a Thanksgiving turkey, 1935 / Source: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library

 

And so it happened: Thanksgiving was changed from the fourth to the third Thursday in November. Nevertheless, his proclamation proved to be quite unpopular. Two years later, the president and Congress established Thanksgiving as a United States federal holiday to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November.

Black ‘Anything’

Unlike in the case of Black Friday, the word ‘black’ before any day is used to describe a highly unpleasant or turbulent event in history.

Black Monday refers to Monday, October 19, 1987. What started as a stock market crash in Hong Kong, then spread to Europe and hit the US.

Black Tuesday happened on October 29, 1929, during the first days of the Wall Street Crash. Due to panic, selling reached its peak: About 16 million shares were traded that date, an unbreakable record for the next 40 years.

Black Wednesday took place on September 16, 1992. It was when a collapse in the pound sterling forced Britain to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, marked the beginning of The Great Depression. It started when the market lost 11 per cent of its value, and the rest is history.

Black Friday, September 24, 1869. 1869. On that day, Jay Gould a railroad developer (and a speculator) and James Fisk, a stockbroker (and a speculator) created a boom-and-bust in gold prices. Prices fell 20 per cent, and the stock market crashed. As a result, commodity prices dropped by 50 per cent.

Panic at the Gold room(!) on Black Friday

Black Saturday happened on 7 February 2009 in Australia. A series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoria and up to this day it’s Australia’s all-time worst bushfire disaster.

Black Sunday, well, Black Sabbath.

When Black Friday still meant something bad

As early as the 19th century, Thanksgiving signalled the start to the holiday shopping season. As marketing was becoming a thing, department stores realised that there are many things they can do to grab the attention of their potential customers.

One of these early ‘campaigns’ which became a tradition, was Macy’s parade. In the Black Friday history, 1924 was the year when everything started for the now-popular tradition. Strange as it may seem, it was actually a Christmas parade.

The first Macy’s Parade ad / Source: The New York Times

Since the original Black Friday, the term was losing its relevance year by year until it pretty much wasn’t used by anyone. About 100 years later though, the term was resurrected to describe a different situation. For the first time in our Black Friday history, the term was linked to the post-Thanksgiving period. The city of Philadelphia was responsible for this change.

The streets of the city, like the street of any major US city during this booming period, were transforming into human rivers. Shoppers and visitors flooded the streets the day after Thanksgiving. But Philly had one more thing going on: The Army/Navy football game.

Pennsylvania Railroad after the game / Source: steamlocomotive.com

Τhe American college football rivalry game was happening on the Saturday of the same weekend. The gathering of so many people was good news for business owners but dad news for another profession: police officers. Unlike most other people during those festive days, many officers not only couldn’t take the day off – they also had to work overtime to control all this carnage. Therefore, police officers used the term Black Friday and Black Saturday to describe their living hell to describe the post-thanksgiving days.

Source: BBC

After the police officers linked Black Friday to the chaos in Philadelphia, the shopping craze became more widespread every year with shops attracting huge crowds.

Shopkeepers and merchants of Philadelphia attempted to change the name the days following Thanksgiving and rebranded them as “Big Friday” and “Big Saturday”, which indeed have a more sales-friendly tone.

However, the term Big Friday never really took off. and Black Friday still had a negative connotation.

Black Friday = Win

It was not until the 1980’s that the term ‘Black Friday’ was used to describe a fortunate event, which was the turning point in Black Friday history.

Back when things were less digital, bookkeeping and every other financial recording was happening on a piece of paper rather than a PC screen. The negative amounts were shown with a red wink while the positive amounts with black ink.

Many retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year – January through November. They only began to make a profit at the beginning of the holiday season, which is the day after Thanksgiving. This was when they would no longer be “in the red”; they would put the red pen in the drawer and pull out the black pen. It was profit time, marked with black – “in the black”.

In the coming years of Black Friday history, the term gained popularity. As the hype around Black Friday grew, so did the crowds. Up to the early 2000s, back when the big 5 tech companies weren’t that big, the biggest shopping day of the year was the Saturday before Christmas, aka Super Saturday.

Until then, Americans, like most of the rest of the world, loved procrastination more than sales.

Source: International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC)

But in the early 2000s, Black Friday took the throne of Super Saturday and became the frenzy we know today.

Black Friday History: Today – Statistics

It’s time for some numbers – because you like numbers.

In 2017, U.S. retailers made a record $7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, up 17.9 per cent from 2016, according to Reuters.

Online retail has grown 300 per cent between 2000 and 2018, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. During the same period, department store sales have dropped almost 50 per cent.

People prefer shopping digitally, so it comes at no surprise that they also do that on a day when shopping from a physical store is like shopping from Hell.

YearSpent per Shopper  Total SpentPer cent Increase
2002N.A.$416.4 billion2.1%
2003N.A.$437.6 billion5.1%
2004N.A.$467.2 billion6.8%
2005$734.69$496.2 billion6.2%
2006$750.70$512.6 billion3.2%
2007$755.13$525.9 billion2.7%
2008$694.19$501.7 billion-4.6%
2009$681.83$503.2 billion0.2%
2010$718.98$529.4 billion5.2%
2011$740.57$553.8 billion4.6%
2012$752.24$568.7 billion2.6%
2013$767.24$584.1 billion2.9%
2014$802.45$608.0 billion5.0%
2015$805.65$626.1 billion3.2%
2016$935.58$655.8 billion3.6%
2017$967.13$682.0 billion4.0%
2018$1,007.24$717.5 billion4.3%

Source: thebalance.com

So how much is the actual foot traffic increase on Black Friday from a typical November day? 65%, says the statistics of expendableramblings.com.

According to the same source:

  • 174 million is the number of people that shopped in the US on Black Friday weekend in 2017.
  • In-store traffic doesn’t really peak early in the morning, but rather at 4 pm.
  • The percentage of Black Friday searches that take place before the stores open is 59%
  • The percentage of US internet users that would shop digitally at the Thanksgiving table to “Get an amazing deal” is 51%
  • Also, Black Friday is responsible for 12 deaths and 117 injuries, according to the Black Friday Death Count.

Black Friday Consumer Habits

Until recently, in the last years of Black Friday history, Black Friday used to refer to Black Friday alone.

It now means more than a single day. Black Friday is only the starting point for the shopping frenzy that peaks on Cyber Monday.

Let’s take a look at what people usually buy on Black Friday, as reported by pwc.co.uk.

And this is where they buy from on Black Friday.

It’s a fact that consumers usually first browse through their potential buys from their phones and proceed to buy from their laptop or desktop.

Furthermore, this is who they buy for:

Well, you can’t spell ‘Man’ without ‘All the presents are mine’, right?

Last but not least, this is why they tend to buy on Black Fridays:

Source: Statista

Advice for Black Friday Shopping

Whether you are ready for some serious door-busting or you intend to click your way through shopping, consider this for this year’s Black Friday:

Do your research — Do your research beforehand and don’t go for choices on the spot. Be prepared to shop around to get the best price.

Set a budget — Have a particular number in mind you are willing to spend. It can be easy to get carried away if you don’t set a spending limit for yourself, especially with online shopping, where one click can mean one purchase.

Long-term buying — Shopping on Black Friday could save you from last-minute shopping before Xmas. Most of the time, a need for a present will come on the surface just before Xmas. Black Friday shopping can mean more free time during Xmas.

Sign up for email newsletters —Make sure your email is in the lists of brands and shops you are interested in. Most sellers send a Black Friday exclusive email that can give you a heads-up on the deals in advance. Remember, email marketing is not dead.

Know your rights — Goods should be of satisfactory quality, fit to do the job intended and be as described. For more about the matter, you can visit the Federal Trade Commission if you live in the US or the European Consumer Organisation  if you are a citizen of the EU.