With origins dating back to the 1800s, Black Friday has become its own holiday by saving shoppers money on incredibly sought-after items, especially Christmas gifts. From early morning campouts to lining up online purchases, Black Friday has come a long way, but how did this holiday tradition come to be?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of Black Friday, a vaguely similar version started in the late 1800s when store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades ended with stores beginning to open for holiday shopping, often kickstarting holiday-season sales.
Throughout the 20th century, these sales continued to evolve into crowded, chaotic events. In the 1940s, the unofficial holiday became so popular that President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving from the last Thursday of November to the fourth Thursday to ensure that holiday sales could commence in time for Christmas shopping.
In 1948, Macy’s kicked off their post-Thanksgiving sale with 14,000 employees and 250,000 shoppers, many lined up outside the building, to clear the shelves at the biggest store in the world.
Despite its popularity, the shopping event wasn’t given its name until the 1980s.
Originally, police coined the term in the 1950s for the Friday after Thanksgiving when chaotic crowds would arrive in Philadelphia for the Army vs. Navy football game. The term was expanded upon by retailers in Philadelphia who noticed an increase in sales on the same day. In the 1980s, the name became nationally recognized, sticking around for modern times.
In the 2000s, deal-hunters got serious, and it became increasingly common to set up tents, wake up at 3 a.m. and even sleep outside of a store for hours on end just to get good deals.
Eventually, crowds got out of hand as competitive shoppers showed no regard for others. Popular items sold out quickly and shoppers, particularly parents buying gifts, did whatever they could to get to them first, including inciting violence.
In 2005 and 2006, Black Friday injuries were reported in Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia and California.
During one incident in Valley Stream, NY in 2008, Walmart shoppers broke down the door, killing an employee caught in the way of the stampede and resulting in the National Retail Federation (NRF)creating crowd guidelines for the weekend.
In the 2010s, the chaos of Black Friday only escalated as customers were often sprayed and tased, and bomb threats ensued at stores such as Walmart and The Home Depot.
Despite the mayhem, Black Friday brought in a lot of revenue for retail stores, leading to the expansion of major sales on Thursday, the weekend and the following Monday. Today, many people refer to the week of sales as Cyber Week. Meanwhile, Black Friday became an international phenomenon.
In recent years; however, the hectic, crowded Black Friday that Americans are used to has slowed down.
The New York Times suggests one reason for the change is earlier sales. Instead of retail stores competitively lowering their prices, stores compete by starting their sales earlier than each other, thereby satisfying demand before other stores can, and resulting in longer-lasting major sales starting as early as October.
Additionally, online shopping is a more convenient option, allowing customers to compare store prices from the comfort of their homes.
Since the pandemic, people are more inclined to shop online, and many stores continue to remain closed on Thanksgiving day, making it even more convenient. According to CNBC, online Black Friday spending in the U.S. rose 7.5% from last year, reaching a record $9.8 billion.
Although Black Friday no longer involves frenzied mobs of shoppers, the concept itself is growing in the digital world, especially as online consumers’ ability to compare brand prices pushes companies to further discount items. For example, electronic discounts on Cyber Monday skyrocketed from 8% in 2021 to 25% in 2022.
Another advantage to digital online sales is that many of this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Week deals are still available, such as free monogramming on Yeti water bottles, 50% off select Skims bras and 33% off AirPods Pro 2.