Black Friday, name ‘originated in Philadelphia’

Black Friday is one of the busiest shopping days in the USA. There are two popular theories as to why the day after Thanksgiving Day is called Black Friday. One theory is that the wheels of vehicles in heavy traffic on the day after Thanksgiving Day left many black markings on the road surface, leading to the term Black Friday.

The other theory is that the term Black Friday comes from an old way of recording business accounts. Losses were recorded in red ink and profits in black ink. Many businesses, particularly small businesses, started making profits prior to Christmas. Many hoped to start showing a profit, marked in black ink, on the day after Thanksgiving Day.

Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. On this day, most major retailers open extremely early and offer promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but many non-retail employers also observe this day as a holiday along with Thanksgiving, giving their employees the day off, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time.

The day’s name ‘originated in Philadelphia’, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are “in the black”.

For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohls, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time.

In 2012, Walmart led several other retailers in announcing it would open its stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers.

Shopping

The news media have long described the day after Thanksgiving as the busiest shopping day of the year. In earlier years, this was not actually the case. In the period from 1993 through 2001, for example, Black Friday ranked from fifth to tenth on the list of busiest shopping days, with the last Saturday before Christmas usually taking first place. In 2003, however, Black Friday actually was the busiest shopping day of the year, and it has retained that position every year since, with the exception of 2004, when it ranked second.

Black Friday is popular as a shopping day for a combination of reasons. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas it marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, increasing the potential number of shoppers. In order to take advantage of this, virtually all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales. Recent years have seen retailers extend beyond normal hours in order to maintain an edge, or to simply keep up with the competition. Such hours may include opening as early as 12:00 am or remaining open overnight on Thanksgiving Day and beginning sales prices at midnight.

In 2010, Toys ‘R’ Us began their Black Friday sales at 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving Day and further upped the ante by offering free boxes of Crayola crayons and coloring books for as long as supplies lasted. Other retailers, like Sears, Aéropostale, and Kmart, began Black Friday sales early Thanksgiving morning, and ran them through as late as 11:00 pm Friday evening. Forever 21 went in the opposite direction, opening at normal hours on Friday, and running late sales until 2:00 am Saturday morning.

Historically, it was common for Black Friday sales to extend throughout the following weekend. However, this practice has largely disappeared in recent years, perhaps because of an effort by retailers to create a greater sense of urgency.

The huge population centers around Lake Ontario in Canada have always attracted cross border shopping into the U.S. states, and as Black Friday became more popular in the U.S., Canadians often flocked to the U.S. because of their cheaper prices and a stronger Canadian dollar. After 2001, many were traveling for the deals across the border. In 2009 several major Canadian retailers had their own version of the day by running promotions to discourage shoppers from leaving for the U.S. Canada’s Boxing Day is comparable to Black Friday in terms of retailer impact and consumerism, but Black Fridays in the U.S. seem to provide deeper or more extreme price cuts than Canadian retailers, even for the same international retailer.

More recently, Black Friday has been exported to nations outside of North America such as the United Kingdom by major online retailers like Amazon and Apple. In 2011, IBM reported online Black Friday sales were up 24.3% according to a study that included 500 retailers.

History

That the day after Thanksgiving is the “official” start of the holiday shopping season may be linked together with the idea of Santa Claus parades. Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often include an appearance by Santa at the end of the parade, with the idea that ‘Santa has arrived’ or ‘Santa is just around the corner’.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Santa parades or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These include the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton’s, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy’s. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.

Later on, the fact that this marked the official start of the shopping season led to controversy. In 1939, retail shops would have liked to have a longer shopping season, but no store wanted to break with tradition and be the one to start advertising before Thanksgiving. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date for Thanksgiving one week earlier, leading to much anger by the public who wound up having to change holiday plans. Some even refused the change, resulting in the U.S. citizens celebrating Thanksgiving on two separate days. Some started referring to the change as Franksgiving.

Sports

On Black Friday, it is common for both the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League to play a nearly full slate of games after taking Thanksgiving Day off. As well, several college football games, many of which are regular season finales, are also played on Black Friday.

Retail Sales

The National Retail Federation releases figures on the sales for each Thanksgiving weekend

What do people do?

Many people have a day off work or choose to take a day from their quota of annual leave on Black Friday. Some people use this to make trips to see family members or friends who live in other areas or to go on vacation. Others use it to start shopping for the Christmas season.

Shopping for Christmas presents is also popular on Black Friday. Many stores have special offers and lower their prices on some goods, such as toys.

Public life

Black Friday is not a federal holiday, but is a public holiday in some states. Many people take a day of their annual leave on the day after Thanksgiving Day. Many organizations also close for the Thanksgiving weekend.

Public transit systems may run on their normal schedule or may have changes. Some stores extend their opening hours on Black Friday. There can also be congestion on roads to popular shopping destinations.

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