How did Black Friday get its name? The history behind why it’s the biggest sales event of the year

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Wondering how Black Friday got its name? You’re probably not the only one.

Each year the famous sales weekend, which follows Thanksgiving Day and begins on November 26 this year, sees a significant amount of shoppers head to high street stores and online brands in attempt to find the best deals.

Retailers including Amazon, Currys, John Lewis and Argos are expected to launch a range of offers again, with further discounts to follow until Cyber Monday.

Yet, many people are unaware of the phenomenon’s history and are clueless about the use of the name before it became associated with the pre-Christmas shopping craze.

From post-football game chaos in Philadelphia to the people who coined the retail event’s name, here is the story behind Black Friday.

How did Black Friday start?

The term “Black Friday” was actually first associated with a financial crisis, not sales shopping.

Two Wall Street financiers Jim Fisk and Jay Gould, together bought a significant amount of US gold in the hope of the overall price soaring and in turn being able to sell it for huge profits.

On Friday 24 September, 1869, in what became referred to as “Black Friday”, the US gold market crashed and Fisk and Gould’s actions left Wall Street barons bankrupt.

In the Wall Street crash of 1929, when the New York Stock Exhange lost 6.3 per cent of its value in a single day, followed by 12.8 per cent and 11.8 per cent on subsequent days, they became known as Black Friday, Black Monday and Black Tuesday.

It was not until later years that the post-Thanksgiving period became associated with the name.

The history behind Black Friday

So why choose a phrase previously associated with stock market crashes to describe a busy shopping day? It’s thought to be because, when shops in the US recorded their accounting details by hand, they noted profits in black and losses in red.

Many shops were “in the red” throughout most of the year but they later “went into the black” the day after Thanksgiving, when shoppers bought a significant amount of discounted merchandise.

An inaccurate folk etymology suggests that Southern plantation owners could buy slaves at a discounted price following Thanksgiving in the 1800s. However, it is unlikely that the term originates from this period as claims emerged many years after the slave trade was abolished in the US.

Who coined the name Black Friday?

If the phrase Black Friday was in use among shopkeepers, it was not until the 1950s that it began to be used more widely. Police officers in Philadelphia seem to have been the earliest adopters. Large crowds of tourists and shoppers would come to the city the day after Thanksgiving for the Army-Navy football game, creating chaos, traffic jams and shoplifting opportunities.

Police officers weren’t able to take the day off and instead had to work long shifts, using the term “Black Friday” sarcastically. As the name spread throughout Philadelphia, some of the city’s merchants and boosters disliked the negative connotations and unsuccessfully tried to change it to “Big Friday”.

Black Friday later became known in print, after an advertisement was published in The American Philatelist magazine in 1966. By the late 1980s, the term was commonly known across the nation and retailers soon linked it to their post-Thanksgiving sales.

Today, Black Friday is the USA’s biggest shopping event of the year, when many shops cut their prices on a range of products, in order to boost profits and officially kick off the festive season.

The US sales phenomenon

Sales in November were popular in the US long before the term Black Friday caught on with the general public.

The department store Macy’s launched its famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in 1924, which encouraged shopping in the city the following day.

The link became so well-established that, when retailers suffered during the Great Depression, President Franklin D Roosevelt made the decision to move the date of Thanksgiving one week earlier than normal in 1939, in hope that the sales would boost the US economy. Some dubbed this move “Franksgiving”.

Post-thanksgiving shopping became even more widespread in the 1970s and 1980s, with shops attracting huge crowds.

Today, millions of Americans hit the shops and search websites, to look for the best deals; retailers often continue their sales throughout the weekend, concluding with online-only offers on Cyber Monday.

According to a report by Adobe Analytics, US consumers spent $9.03 billion online on Black Friday 2020, with Hot Wheels, Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Animal Crossing ranking as the top three selling products.

When did Black Friday start in the UK?

Online retail giant Amazon introduced the concept to the UK in 2010, promoting a range of discounts and deals to consumers.

In 2013, supermarket Asda, owned by American retailer Walmart, later held its own Black Friday sale – one which resulted in chaos as customers physically fought for televisions and gadgets. Following this, Black Friday has grown significantly throughout the UK, with more and more retailers choosing to hold sale events.

Despite some retailers such as Ikea and Marks and Spencer choosing not to openly join the shopping craze, many retailers, such as John Lewis and Currys, take advantage of the increase in purchases and have successfully boosted their profits by participating.

On Black Friday 2019, Barclaycard recorded a new peak of 1,184 transactions per second between 1pm and 2pm, up by around nine per cent from the previous year.

In recent years, many Black Friday shoppers have picked up their deals online, thanks largely to the rise of the smartphone and services such as click and collect, while footfall has dwindled.

Last year, Black Friday fell towards the end of the second national lockdown, meaning high street stores were unable to open for the sales event. As a result, many consumers scanned websites and online retailers for the best deals and offers.

In 2019, however, Black Friday saw an increase in physical shoppers across UK high streets, retail parks and shopping centres. According to Springboard, visits to shops increased by 3.3 per cent in comparison to 2018.

Black Friday around the world

Along with the UK and USA, the Black Friday sales concept has emerged in other countries across the globe including Brazil, India, France, Norway, Romania and Germany.

In Mexico, they call their version of Black Friday “El Buen Fin”, meaning “the good end” while in the United Arab Emirates, shops cut their prices on what they call “White Friday”.

In China, they celebrate their own shopping holiday, Singles’ Day, on November 11. Originally an “anti-Valentine’s” celebration for single people in the 1990s, the day later became the world’s largest 24-hour shopping event, after Alibaba spotted a commercial opportunity back in 2009 and launched “Double 11” deals.

Is Black November the new Black Friday?

Black Friday has become an important period for many retailers as they hope offering discounts will boost their profits.

However, the increase in consumer demand and competition between retailers has led to an overwhelming amount of visitors to online retail sites and chaos in high street shops.

To help improve the process of sales and online deliveries, deal with competition and satisfy customers’ needs, retailers are now choosing to run their sales across an extended period, rather than the traditional 24 hours.

In recent years, a number of promotions and offers have started in the days building up to Black Friday, a move which has been dubbed “Black Fiveday”.

Some online retailers have even been known to start their sales as early as the start of November, continuing across the Black Friday weekend, and concluding on Cyber Monday.

Retailers are likely to continue this trend in 2021, particularly as online sales were strong in the days leading up to Black Friday last year.

What is Cyber Monday?

It hasn’t been around as long as Black Friday, but the development of technology and online shopping has led retailers to create Cyber Monday.

The day marks the continuation of sales following Thanksgiving and Black Friday, with exclusive internet-only deals and discounts. This year, it falls on November 29.

Ellen Davis, senior vice president of the National Retail Federation in the US, first used the name in 2005, when she noticed an increase in online sales on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

In fact, Adobe Analytics found more online purchases were made on Cyber Monday in the US last year than Black Friday itself, with consumers spending $10.84 billion.

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