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While Thanksgiving is the holiday for sharing a meal with friends and family, the day after Turkey Day is all about sales, shopping, and saving money with great deals. But what is the history of Black Friday in the United States, that day after Thanksgiving, that has become a traditional mad dash to the mall to shop for sales and specials? Why do we shop until we drop on Black Friday? And why do we call it Black Friday?

When is Black Friday?

Thanksgiving in the United States is always the fourth Thursday of November, and Black Friday is always the day after Thanksgiving. This means that the shopping holiday of Black Friday always falls between 23rd and the 29th of November. There are several explanations as to the origins of the phrase Black Friday. One theory is that the day after Thanksgiving signals when retail owners have earned enough for the year to pay all of their expenses and that the last month of the year leading up until Christmas is when the profit is made. So the idea is that the phrase comes from retail owners being “in the black”, or making a profit. Another explanation as to the origin of Black Friday is that the service workers and drivers suffer exhaustion on this day because of the high volume of shoppers, creating for a black, or dismal, Friday.

The original Black Friday in the United States was the day in 1929 when the stock market crashed and signaled the beginning of the Great Depression. Whatever the exact origin of the holiday, what is certain about the term Black Friday, is that it was first used to describe the day after Thanksgiving in Philadelphia in the 1960s, and was part of the popular lexicon by 1975. Black Friday has become an important part of the culture of shopping in the United States and has grown in large proportions.

History of Black Friday

Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, large department stores ruled the advertising and retail worlds, and decided that the Christmas shopping season would not be advertised until their annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. So for many consumers, the Christmas shopping season did not officially begin until the Macy’s or Gimbel’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. While Gimbel’s Department store no longer exists, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is still going strong more than 80 years after it began in New York City.

Super Christmas Sales

As Black Friday also signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, many retailers and shop owners advertise special deals and sales only available on Black Friday. This super-sale day where special merchandise is available for a limited period of time has helped to boost Black Friday to epic scale. Retailers also may play Christmas music and have their stores decorated for the holidays on Black Friday to herald in the larger shopping season.

Retail Strategy

Some retailers offer sales that are so low, the retailer loses profit on that particular item. This retail strategy is just to get people in the door, to keep them shopping for other products, and to entice shoppers to come back often. In retail advertising this technique of using a lower-priced product to lure in shoppers is known as a “loss leader” or “door buster”, as it is meant to being people in to shop.

Excess and Injuries

Some Black Friday shoppers have become aggressive in being the first in the door when the store opens and have started camping out on the sidewalks and parking lots in front of the store. There have also been a number of accidents that have injured and killed people during the frenzy of competition for consumers to purchase coveted retail products for an inexpensive price.

Everybody Shops

Another reason that this has become such a popular shopping holiday is because many workers in the United States don’t have to work on Black Friday, so there are many more shoppers crowding the stores. Except for retail workers, many Americans take this day after Thanksgiving to go shopping with family and friends.

While most people might think that Black Friday has always been the top shopping holiday, surprisingly it has not always been so. In fact, it is only since 2001 that Black Friday has been the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. (Excepting 2004, in which Black Friday was not the largest retail shopping day that year.)

Extending Black Friday

In 2018, some large retailers started opening the evening before Black Friday on the evening of Thanksgiving. Some of these stores, including Sears and Kmart, have offered Black Friday sales events beginning on Thanksgiving morning and ending as late as 11pm on Friday. In the past few years, shopping online and at retail stores has doubled on Thanksgiving day itself suggesting an expansion of Black Friday to create a longer, extended spending period in the future. Perhaps Black Friday might become Black 4-Day Weekend? Already there are indications that pre-Thanksgiving Day sales will start to come into play as another day for retailers to provide shopping for bargains to cash in on the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas shopping boom.

How big is Black Friday in the U.S.? The National Retail Federation estimates that in 2018 there were 212 million shoppers who spent $45 billion (US) on Black Friday. That averages out to be about a $212 purchase per person on this one day alone. This largest retail shopping day of the year seems only destined to continue to expand. Many online communities discuss the much-anticipated Black Friday holiday sales and rush to scan and upload retail sales circulars to share on the internet.

The same retailers use social networking media such as Facebook and Twitter to announce specials and sales via the internet. In the past couple of years, Black Friday has been exported to the United Kingdom and Australia by large online retailers such as Amazon and Apple. Along the U.S. and Canada border, merchants and retailers have started having sales and specials to keep Canadian shoppers from traveling to the U.S. to shop for the day.

Black Friday, the top shopper’s holiday, is here to stay and to perhaps spread through out the internet and to the international world.