The Origins of Black Friday

The Origins of Black Friday

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, which is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The term “Black Friday” dates back to at least the 1960s and is believed to have originated in Philadelphia.

There are a few different theories about how Black Friday got its name:

  • Heavy Traffic Theory: This theory suggests the term “Black Friday” was used to describe the chaos and disruption caused by the heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the day after Thanksgiving. Retail stores would be crowded with shoppers and traffic jams would clog the streets around shopping centers.
  • Police Theory: In Philadelphia, policemen used the term to refer to the headaches and issues they dealt with from the massive crowds of shoppers and traffic on the day after Thanksgiving. Black refers to the inconveniences caused for them on that day.
  • Accounting Theory: For many businesses, Thanksgiving and the following Black Friday were the dates when companies went “into the black” meaning they turned a profit before the end of the calendar year. Black refers to being profitable.
  • Gold Market Theory: In the 1950s, the gold market suffered a financial crisis and crashed on Black Tuesday. For years after, Black Friday was associated with financial crisis and sharp declines. This could have led to the use of “Black” for the post-Thanksgiving shopping day.

Whenever the term originated, Black Friday stuck and became the popular term used to describe the day after Thanksgiving because of the disruptions and challenges caused by the onslaught of shoppers.

The Evolution of Black Friday

In the early days of Black Friday shopping, most people had to physically go to brick-and-mortar stores to take advantage of sales. Shoppers would have to wake up very early and stand in long lines outside of stores to get the best deals. Scenes of crowded parking lots and hoards of people waiting for stores to open were common on the morning of Black Friday.

As more shoppers participated in Black Friday over the years, some incidents of violence and injuries occurred from people rushing and cramming into stores. In order to create a safer environment, many stores began opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday to accommodate crowds – some even starting their sales on Thanksgiving evening.

The 21st century brought online shopping and a whole new Black Friday experience. Now shoppers didn’t have to leave their homes to take advantage of deals. Retailers started offering Black Friday sales on their websites, providing an alternative to going to physical stores. Crowds thinned out a bit as people opted to shop online rather than deal with parking issues and long lines.

Today, the majority of major retailers offer online deals on Black Friday, often starting them early on Thanksgiving Day itself. However, many die-hard shoppers still go out to stores as well for doorbuster deals and the excitement of the experience. Big box stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy draw crowds looking to snag deals on electronics and other bestselling items.

But Black Friday shopping no longer stops when the sun goes down. With 24/7 online shopping, sales extend through Cyber Monday and the rest of the holiday season.

Black Friday Controversies

The immense popularity of Black Friday in the US has not come without controversy over the years. Here are some of the major issues surrounding the mega shopping day:

  • Worker Exploitation Concerns: Retail employees often have to miss out on Thanksgiving celebrations with their families to come into work for Black Friday sales. Petitions and protests have called for companies to remain closed on Thanksgiving.
  • Overcommercialization Critiques: As Black Friday sales have started extending into Thanksgiving Day itself, many believe the day has become overcommercialized and now interferes with the holiday. Critics say the shopping frenzy detracts from quality family time.
  • Violent Outbreaks: Insanely good deals at a small number of stores have led to fights, stampedes, and injuries in extreme cases over the years. Safety concerns have caused some retailers to remove the most dangerous doorbuster deals.
  • Negative Environmental Impact: With the rise in online orders, Black Friday shipping now generates an estimated 15 million pounds of cardboard waste according to some estimates. The overall consumption boom leads to more materials use and garbage.

Despite the controversies, Black Friday remains hugely popular in the US and is considered an integral part of the Thanksgiving weekend. For retailers, it marks the beginning of a period that will make or break their revenue goals for the year. The term is now also used worldwide for the busy shopping day, though not associated with Thanksgiving outside the US.

The Future of Black Friday

Black Friday shopping has changed dramatically from its humble origins and chaotic crowds in Philadelphia. Today, online sales make up a major portion of the spending and span well beyond Friday itself.

Looking to the future, Black Friday will likely become even more digital. Retailers are offering earlier online deals leading up to Thanksgiving week, and in-store doorbusters are declining. With rising gas prices and ease of home delivery, online shopping will continue growing as the preferred method for many Black Friday shoppers.

More retailers may also start closing their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself, allowing workers to fully enjoy the holiday as critics have called for. However, major consumer electronics stores like Best Buy and Walmart will likely keep doors open on Thanksgiving evening to kick off in-person sales for those who enjoy the revelry.

No matter how it evolves, Black Friday has become an enduring tradition for holiday shoppers in the US and abroad. The thrills of finding the best deals will ensure it remains a major shopping event, both online and in-store. Retailers will continue competing to offer the most attractive Black Friday savings to stimulated consumer spending during the vital holiday sales season.

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