Thanksgiving dinner is over, the sound of clanging dishes in the sink rings from the kitchen, and belts are being loosened all throughout the house. While many would rather get the leftovers wrapped up and plant themselves firmly on the couch for the rest of the night, the rest will be standing in lines wrapped around Target, Walmart, and malls all over the country. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), over 150 million shoppers will be searching for deals and checking names off their lists in the 96 hours following Thanksgiving.
But the origin of Black Friday tells classic tales of marketing spin and misconceptions.
But First, The Myths There are plenty of stories circulating about the beginnings of Black Friday, and a lot of them are made up for the benefit of retailers or the shock value they provide.
The most commonly told story has to do with the color itself. Accountants would record their profits and losses in black and red, respectively. It was frequently said that the Friday after Thanksgiving was the first day that retailers turned a profit in the fiscal year, their numbers finally reaching the black. This, however, was one of the retailer-perpetuated ideas to turn away from the true birth of the term.
There are other myths and rumors floating around, but most of them are created and spread through social media posts and viral articles. The truth isn’t quite as dramatic as some of the tales you’ll see floating around.
What Really Happened The true beginning of the term “Black Friday” comes from a few sources, and while significantly less dark than other versions of the story, it still required plenty of marketing to turn the weekend into a cheery, holiday event.
The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was in 1869, after a stock market gold-buying conspiracy came crashing down and left many on Wall Street and across the country bankrupt. It would be over a century later before the idea of Black Friday as we know it today would actually catch on.
In the 1960’s, Philadelphia police officers started using the phrase to describe the influx of shoppers that would clog the city’s streets the day after Thanksgiving. Since the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, Thanksgiving has been the official kick-off for the holiday season, and retailers would open their doors to thousands of shoppers pouring into the department stores the next day. The mayhem caused by all of these deal-seekers meant long hours and chaos for the police department every year, hence the less-than-cheery meaning behind “Black Friday.”
Retailers wanted to take advantage of this habitual shopping, and some even pushed to rename the day to “Big Friday”, but it never quite caught on. It wasn’t until much later in the 1980s that marketers embraced the term and gave it a facelift to encourage Americans to get their shopping done when the deals were hot.
It’s estimated by the NRF that today’s average American will do at least 50% of their holiday shopping on Thanksgiving weekend.
Modern Day Holiday Shopping Today, Black Friday starts as early as Thanksgiving for many retailers. To compete with online shopping, brick and mortar stores have started sales earlier and earlier each year since the early 2000’s.
44% of Black Friday shoppers elected to do their gifting online in 2016, a number that’s expected to rise this year.
Thanksgiving weekend isn’t just for the larger companies either. In 2010, American Express launched Small Business Saturday, encouraging shoppers to choose small, local business in their community to help the merchants that weren’t able to compete with big box retailers when it came to holiday deals.
The options to participate this year are more diverse than ever, whether you’re willing to wait in the cold at 3AM or shop comfortably from your bed, it doesn’t hurt to get a jump start on your holiday gifting.
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