The Black Friday Origin Story

May 19,2017 9 min read

The day after Thanksgiving has long been seen as the first (and biggest) shopping day of the holiday season but this wasn’t always the case.
 
First, let’s do away with the biggest myth about Black Friday. You may think this sales event is called Black Friday because it marks the day that businesses are finally ‘in the black’ or turning a profit. But that is not true (and if you are not turning a profit until the last 5 weeks you are probably in bigger trouble than can be solved by Black Friday). The phrase was actually coined in Philadelphia during the 1960s. The Philadelphia police started to call the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" because pedestrians and their vehicles were causing massive traffic jams downtown as they began their holiday shopping. The chaos was exacerbated because students were out of school and Santa Claus had claimed his chair for the season. The name stuck.
 
Despite the mania Philadelphia was seeing, Black Friday was was not the biggest shopping day of the season, yet. The last Saturday before Christmas was. That changed about twenty years ago. Big box stores decided to start the shopping season with really big deals, promoted those deals with marketing dollars (i.e. commercials and leaflets) and the consumers ate it up in hopes that one big shopping day would solve all their holiday shopping problems. Stock up now and relax until Christmas. 
 
Eventually, this led to the stores opening earlier and earlier: 6AM, 5AM, 4AM. A couple of years ago some stores opened at midnight and now we have stores that open on the evening of Thanksgiving. Everyone is doing what they can to get those early shoppers and make their holiday sales goals. As the trend became pervasive (and crept into Thanksgiving) and riots in shopping malls and at big box stores were publicized, the “biggest shopping day of the year” began to see some major backlash.
 
Many consumers have voiced that they don’t want to go out late on Thanksgiving and don’t want to have to see loved ones pulled from holiday activities because they have to go to work. Some have called for a boycott of Black Friday and the backlash has had an effect.
 
In response to Black Friday but also probably because the name and deals associated with it have been successful, alternative shopping events have popped up in the last 10 years. Cyber Monday was first mentioned in 2005 to describe the online shopping phenomenon that was becoming apparent. Since then, Cyber Monday has been leveraged by online businesses. They have carved out that day for online-only deals that would allow consumers avoid the chaos of Black Friday. And Small Business Saturday was created and celebrated starting in 2010 with the goal of highlighting shopping local instead of at big box stores that are typically the biggest participants in Black Friday. The registered trademark for Small Business Saturday is actually held by American Express and they have launched plenty of marketing campaigns to publicize it.
 
This year, one large store has even gone public with their disdain for Black Friday sales events. REI has launched commercials announcing they won’t open on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. They are encouraging people to enjoy the outdoors on those holidays.
 
We won’t tell you to avoid this hectic shopping day and #OptOutside, but if you decide to participate - be careful out there! It can get crazy.
 
Happy Holidays from the E-junkie crew!