Today, it is recognised by retailers as the most important shopping day of the year, with people spending millions on purchases. But that was not always true. What is the history of Black Friday?
What is Black Friday?
It is the popular name for the day after US Thanksgiving. Shops traditionally close during the Thursday holiday. In the 1950s, an annual Army v Navy football match on the Saturday after Thanksgiving would send people in their masses to the shops the day before to stock up for the long weekend.
Retailers used the busy day as an opportunity to run large promotions, and it was seen by many as the official start of the holiday season. Stores would set up decorations in the windows and have sales on items to be bought as Christmas presents. Now, the day is the busiest of the entire year, with shops in the US making over £8 billion.
How did it get its name?
Nobody is sure. Traditionally, “Black Fridays” have not described positive events. One historical “Black Friday” was in September 1869, when the price of gold plummeted, causing a stock market panic. Similarly, the day of the crash that caused the Great Depression is known as “Black Tuesday”.
Some believe the day after Thanksgiving gets its name because it is the day when shops move from the red – signifying debt – into the black. Others suggest that the phrase started out as a nickname adopted by the Philadelphia police in the 1950s when the traffic on the Friday before a long holiday caused havoc in the city.
Is it just an American thing?
It might just be an ordinary Friday following an ordinary Thursday for most of the rest of the world, but that does not mean shops do not hold sales. In Canada, Black Friday is almost as prevalent as it is in neighbouring US – despite the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving takes place a month earlier.
In recent years, retailers in South America and Europe have started marking the day, while Black Friday has also taken off in Russia, Saudi Arabia and Australia.
So, it’s just on Friday?
No. In the past, sales would open on the Friday and be sold out by the end of the day. But as the sales grow in popularity across the globe, they traditionally last for four whole days.
The rise of online shopping has also changed Black Friday over the years. The Monday after the weekend now has its own nickname – Cyber Monday. It is a reflection of the efforts of online retailers to draw in business with similar promotional offers. This year, as many shops remain closed and huge queues are impossible, Black Friday has moved almost entirely online. To compensate, some businesses have started their promotions even earlier than usual.
Will the pandemic affect shops negatively?
Surprisingly, not really. Many expected the closure of shops and economic recession to result in much lower numbers this year. For instance, Black Friday shopping in 2008 saw a decline in the US.
On this occasion, it looks as though people are still keen to spend. In the UK, retailers have seen such an increase in online sales that November looks set to be a record-breaking month for internet shopping. In Australia, experts are predicting that numbers will go up rather than down.
Is all this shopping really something to celebrate?
Some people think it shouldn’t be. They point to the huge environmental impact of Black Friday, as packaging and plastic bags are used and delivery vans fill the roads. Others simply say that the consumerism of Black Friday wipes out the meaning of the holiday it follows. Greed, they argue, is the opposite of giving thanks.
In 1997, a group of activists in Canada set up “Buy Nothing Day”. Held on the same day as Black Friday, the boycott is now marked in over 65 countries and urges people to “switch off from shopping and tune into life”.
- Should every country in the world have a special holiday for giving thanks?
- Imagine you own a small shop, and you are having an online sale because of coronavirus. Create a social media post designed to draw in customers.
- Celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November, it is a time that Americans give thanks for the year. Many get together with their families and share a meal.
- A financier called Jay Gould attempted to drive up the price of gold by preventing government gold being sold on the market. President Ulysses S Grant found out and ordered that $4,000,000 of gold be sold off. The sudden change caused trust in the whole stock market to plummet.
- Great Depression
- A severe worldwide economic depression that began in the US in 1929.
- Canadian Thanksgiving
- Celebrated on the second Monday of October, this holiday is smaller than its American counterpart and is not celebrated country-wide.
- To give somebody something – typically money – in return for a loss of some kind. It can also mean to make up for an unfortunate event or situation, as in this case.
- Excessive risk-taking by banks resulted in a global financial crash. The name for the phenomenon, “Credit Crunch”, went on to become the 2008 word of the year.