What’s The Deal With “Black Friday?”

Black Friday shopper holds many bags.

Shoppers in America christened the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” long before the internet and eCommerce began to dominate the retail world. This year will be no different. However, the phenomenon is not a single-day experience – and it’s not just an American event. Here’s a quick look backward and forward on Black Friday and its impact on retail shopping in general and eCommerce specifically.  

Going way back to the 17th century (that’s 1600 to 1699), there was a saying referring to “Black Friday” as the “day on which an examination is held.” No kidding. Leave it to students to coin a new phrase with some slang. 

In 1869, according to the History Channel, Black Friday was used to describe the gold market crash on Friday, September 24. Obviously, neither of these historical references had anything to do with shopping. 

Post WWII in the 1950s, the day after Thanksgiving was becoming a big shopping day in the US, with people packing into stores for “deals” on Christmas presents. The police in Philadelphia started calling the day Black Friday because of all the chaos they had to deal with, shoppers crowding into stores and sometimes getting unruly. There is no reference to Eagles fans in this research, but the annual Army v Navy game the Saturday after Thanksgiving did contribute to some of the overcrowding.  

On a related note, some retailers described going from “being in the red” – accounting-wise – to “being in the black” with the surge in buying gifts. True enough that for years, many retailers have been banking on a good holiday shopping season to cover the leaner times throughout the year. This also has a more positive connotation for “black,” right?

The Black Friday shopping event was catching on, and along came the internet and the ecommerce retail bonanza. Since the turn of the century, eCommerce retail spending has risen continually with year-over-year increases in online revenues, while traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have seen modest growth at best. Naturally, online retailers began promoting “Black Friday Sales” events well ahead of the day. The months of November and December have become a powerful selling season for brands and retailers, and shoppers are well-prepared and trained to find bargains.  

In the early 2000s, the speed and reliability of internet connectivity was sketchy in many areas ( if you remember). A new phenomenon began when people started utilizing their faster connections at work to do their shopping, and, voila, Cyber Monday was born. Credit the NRF, National Retail Federation, for coining the term. And every year since then, the Monday following Thanksgiving sees a spike in revenue and online traffic. The dramatic increase in smartphones and mobile devices since 2008 has opened the door for “always on” retail promotions and access.  

The term “Cyber Five” hasn’t caught on as well – referring to the five days from Thanksgiving Thursday to Cyber Monday. Regardless, these web-based shopping trends continue to expand globally and have led to many more marketing techniques to entice shoppers. Christmas in July, Singles Day, Prime Day, and the like have created anticipation and a following on the same wavelength as Black Friday.   

Let’s hope that these trends are for the greater good of retailers, manufacturers, supply chain businesses, consumers, and the population in general… after all, it is the season for giving.  

Tom Behnke

Advisory Board Member


Boxzooka is a quality-focused e-commerce fulfillment company with great technology, lean operating processes, happy clients, and vibrant culture. www.boxzooka.com 

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