Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving Day in the US – that’s something we all know.
We know that many stores offer huge discounts during this time, as well as open ridiculously early. I’m sure everyone’s seen videos of crazy shoppers shoving, pushing, and pulling on items to get what they want. Sales are that good.
We all also probably know someone who’s willing to get up before the crack of dawn to go and be the first person in line to get what they want. We might even be that person.
But does anyone know where Black Friday came from?
Historically, Black Friday was a stock market catastrophe on September 24, 1869. Long story short: the price of gold plummeted and markets ended up crashing super hard.
Two conmen, Jay Gould & Jim Fisk had been planning a gold con, hoping to buy up all the gold in the market, get the price of gold to skyrocket and sell it all back at a premium. To that end, they tried to trick President Grant into not selling the government-owned gold so they could limit the gold in the market.
Just as they managed to constrict the market, on September 24, 1869, President Grant ordered the sale of $4 million worth of gold, which caused a huge panic and the crash of the stock markets by 20%. It was even bad enough that foreign trade stopped entirely.
How does this connect to modern day Black Friday?
Wikipedia cites the first instance of the
phrase Black Friday was in 1961, a solid 92 years after the catastrophe. It was used by police to describe the traffic on the day after Thanksgiving, specifically before the Army-Navy game.
It was notable mostly because huge crowds of shoppers would go to the city on that particular Friday, which meant that cops would have to work long hours to cover the crowds.
Probably because of its unfortunate origins, shop vendors tried, for a long time, to change the name from Black Friday to Big Friday, but the name never really stuck.
So, between this time and the 1980s, when this repeated year after year, the meaning behind Black Friday slowly got lost and shifted toward a more neutral direction.
For sales and shops, being in the red tends to mean losing money, but being in the black means being profitable. As expected, most shops want to go into the black, and they tend to do that on Black Friday.
So this is how “Black Friday” came to be.
Retailers tend to use the day as an opportunity: they offer overstocked products at rock-bottom prices. It’s a way to control their inventory and attract customers.
Black Friday is the best time to go shopping primarily because of its timing: just after Thanksgiving and before the Christmas holiday rush. It’s said that Americans are 6 times more likely to buy online on Black Friday compared to sales on any other Friday.
In fact, the whole Black Friday shtick comes from the desire to attract customers into the store. Once they’re in (after seeing that 34″ TV on super sale, or that PS5 that they’ve been wanting for the lowest price they’ve ever seen it), they’re more likely to also buy small things that catch their eye.
Black Friday is notorious for its impulse shopping, and shoppers are more than likely to impulse buy apparel/shoes, electronics, games, and videogames if they see them at a good sale price.
Now let’s talk about Cyber Monday
Nowadays we also have something called Cyber Monday. We’ve all heard of this because it’s a much easier way to get what we want, but the sales are usually a little less on the day. After all, there’s still online shopping during Black Friday.
Despite this, eCommerce retailers report up to 240% increase in revenue on Black Friday, and 380% on Cyber Monday.
This means that Cyber Monday has come to be the day that sales go up online. Cyber Monday was coined in 2005, much later than the Black Friday concept. Quite simply, it’s the Monday after Black Friday when people continue to shop online even after going back to work.
And, in recent years, Cyber Monday also includes the preceding Saturday and Sunday to make somewhat of a “Cyber weekend“.
Was Black Friday affected by COVID-19?
Oh boy, but was it.
- Retailers don’t want to look bad for showing clips of brawling customers during a pandemic.
- Customers are understandably cautious of going to a place with a lot of people around them.
- Online shopping is more popular than ever before.
This combination has led to early promotions of holiday sales, as far back as October. Many stores have shifted online.
Still the holiday season is an important time for many. “People are really craving celebration and connection, and we can’t see each other, so we kind of fall back on… stuff.” says Lizabeth Dunn, operating partner at Consumer Growth Partners. So obviously we still want to buy a lot of things.
This alone has seen a shift to online marketplaces, with perhaps a bit more of a focus on the “Cyber weekend” from before.