Black Friday (shopping)

Black Friday (shopping)

Black Friday is the Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States, where it is the beginning of the traditional Christmas shopping season. Since Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, Black Friday may be as early as the 23rd and as late as the 29th of November. Black Friday is not an official holiday, but many employers give the day off, increasing the number of potential shoppers. Retailers often decorate for the Christmas season weeks beforehand. Many retailers open very early (typically 5 am or even earlier) and offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. Although Black Friday, as the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, has served as the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season at least since the start of the modern Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924, the term "Black Friday" has been traced back only to the 1960s. The term "Black Friday" originated in Philadelphia in reference to the heavy traffic on that day. More recently, merchants and the media have used it instead to refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers are in the black (i.e., turning a profit).

The news media frequently refer to Black Friday as the busiest retail shopping day of the year, but this is not always accurate. While it has been one of the busiest days in terms of customer traffic, [cite web|url=|title=ShopperTrak Predicts Top 10 Shopping Days of Holiday 2006|author=ShopperTrak|work=Press Release|date=2006-10-04] [cite web|url=|title=Top Ten Holiday Shopping Days 2004|author=International Council of Shopping Centers|format=PDF] in terms of actual sales volume, from 1993 through 2001 Black Friday was usually the fifth to tenth busiest day. [cite news|url=|title=Christmas Shopping Facts and Figures|date=2000-11-22|work=Press Release|author=Purdue University News Service] In 2002 and 2004, however, Black Friday ranked second place. [cite web|url=|title=Holiday Watch: Media Guide 2006 Holiday Facts and Figure|author=International Council of Shopping Centers|format=PDF] The busiest retail shopping day of the year in the United States (in terms of both sales and customer traffic) usually has been the Saturday before Christmas. [cite web|url=|work=Urban Legends Reference Pages|author=Barbara and David P. Mikkelson|date=2006-11-20|title=Black Friday] In 2003 and 2005, however, Black Friday actually did reach first place. [cite web|url=|title=Holiday Watch: Media Guide 2006 Holiday Facts and Figure|author=International Council of Shopping Centers|format=PDF]

In many cities it is not uncommon to see shoppers lined up hours before stores with big sales open. Once inside, the stores shoppers often rush and grab, as many stores have only a few of the big draw items. Electronics and popular toys are often the most sought-after items and may be sharply discounted. Because of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, many choose to stay home and avoid the hectic shopping experience. The local media often will cover the event, mentioning how early the shoppers began lining up at various stores and providing video of the shoppers standing in line and later leaving with their purchased items. Traditionally Black Friday sales were intended for those shopping for Christmas gifts. For some particularly popular items, some people shop at these sales in order to get deep discounts on items they can then resell, typically online.

Origin of the name "Black Friday"

tress from large crowds

The earliest uses of "Black Friday" come from or reference Philadelphia and refer to the heavy traffic on that day, an implicit comparison to the extremely stressful and chaotic experience of Black Tuesday (the 1929 stock-market crash). The earliest known reference to "Black Friday" (in this sense), found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, refers to Black Friday 1965 and makes the Philadelphia origin explicit:

JANUARY 1966 -- "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing. [ [ Martin L. Apfelbaum, Philadelphia's "Black Friday,"] "American Philatelist", vol. 69, no. 4, p. 239 (Jan. 1966).]

The term "Black Friday" began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, both datelined Philadelphia. The first reference is in an article entitled "Army vs. Navy: A Dimming Splendor," in "The New York Times":

Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it "Black Friday" - that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army-Navy game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial City as the Christmas list is checked off and the Eastern college football season nears conclusion.

The derivation is also clear in an Associated Press article entitled "Folks on Buying Spree Despite Down Economy," which ran in the "Titusville Herald" on the same day:

Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree.

. . . .

"That's why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today 'Black Friday,'" a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. "They think in terms of headaches it gives them."

Accounting practice

Many merchants objected to the use of a negative term to refer to one of the most important shopping days in the year. [ [ Jennifer Lin, Why the Name Black Friday? Uh . . . Well . . .] , "Philadelphia Inquirer" (Nov. 30, 1985).] By the early 1980s, an alternative theory began to be circulated: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period where retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year's profits (the black). The earliest known use, again found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake, is from 1981, again from Philadelphia, and presents the "black ink" theory as one of several competing possibilities:

If the day is the year's biggest for retailers, why is it called Black Friday?

Because it is a day retailers make profits -- black ink, said Grace McFeeley of Cherry Hill Mall.

"I think it came from the media," said William Timmons of Strawbridge & Clothier.

"It's the employees, we're the ones who call it Black Friday," said Belle Stephens of Moorestown Mall. "We work extra hard. It's a long hard day for the employees." [ [ Shoppers Flood Stores for "Black Friday,"] "Philadelphia Inquirer" (Nov. 28, 1981).]

The Christmas shopping season is of enormous importance to American retailers and, while an examination of the quarterly SEC filings of major retailers such as Wal-Mart [] or Target [] shows that most retailers intend to and actually do make profits during every quarter of the year, some retailers are particularly dependent on the Christmas shopping season and have profits for the quarter including Christmas that exceed their profits for the year. ["E.g.", [ Toys "R" Us, Inc., Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended Feb. 2, 2008] , p. 91.]


The history of the day after Thanksgiving being the official start of the holiday shopping season is linked together strongly with the idea of Santa Claus parades. They are merged with a parade celebrating Thanksgiving. These parades, though mainly a celebration of thanksgiving, include an appearance by Santa at the end 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 / Thanksgiving day parades were sponsored by department stores. These include the Toronto Santa Claus Parade 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, America was suffering through the great depression. 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 Roosevelt moved the date for Thanksgiving up a week leading to much anger by the public who wound up having to change holiday plans. Folks started referring to the change as Franksgiving.

Black Friday on the Internet

Advertising tip sites

Some websites offer information about Black Friday specials up to a month in advance. The text listings of items and prices are usually accompanied by pictures of the actual ad circulars. These are either leaked by insiders or intentionally released by large retailers to give consumers insight and allow them time to plan.

In recent years, some retailers (including Wal-Mart, Target Corporation, OfficeMax, and Staples, Inc.) have claimed that the advertisements they send in advance of Black Friday and the prices included in those advertisements are copyrighted. ["Sale fight no fright for area Web site," "Charleston Gazette & Daily Mail" (Nov. 26, 2002).]

Some of these retailers have used the take-down system of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a means to remove the offending price listings. Some believe this policy is derived from a fear that competitors will slash prices, and shoppers may comparison shop. The actual validity of the claim that prices form a protected work of authorship is uncertain as the prices themselves (though not the advertisements) might be considered a fact in which case they would not receive the same level of protection as a copyrighted work. ["Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co.", 499 U.S. 340 (1991).]

The benefit of threatening Internet sites with a DMCA based lawsuit has proved tenuous at best. While some sites have complied with the requests, others have either ignored the threats or simply continued to post the information under the name of a similar sounding fictional retailer. However, as the DMCA allows websites 24 hours to comply with the take-down notice or file a counter notice, careful timing may mitigate the take-down notice. An Internet service provider in 2003 brought suit against Best Buy, Kohl's, and Target, arguing that the take-down notice provisions of the DMCA are unconstitutional. The court dismissed the case, ruling that only the third-party posters of the advertisements, and not the ISP itself, would have standing to sue the retailers. ["Fatwallet, Inc. v. Best Buy Enterprises Services", 2004 WL 793548 (N.D.Ill. 2004).]

Cyber Monday

The term "Cyber Monday", a neologism invented by the National Retail Federation's division, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday, which unofficially marks the beginning of the Christmas online shopping season.

In recent years, Cyber Monday has become a busy day for online retailers, with some sites offering low prices and other promotions on that day. Like Black Friday, Cyber Monday is often wrongly said to be the busiest shopping day of the year for online shoppers, although in reality several days later in the holiday shopping season are busier.

Earlier in the 2000s the day had more significance (though it was not named as such until 2005) as most people did not have broadband connections at home and presumably used the first day back at work from the long Thanksgiving weekend to take advantage of such connections in the office to do online shopping. In response, many retailers now encourage people to do their online shopping at home on Thanksgiving Day itself by offering their Black Friday sales online that day.

Buy Nothing Day

Buy Nothing Day is organized by Adbusters magazine, intentionally as a counter-act to "Black Friday". Originally organized in Vancouver, Canada in September of 1992, in 1997 it was moved in North America to the same day as Black Friday ("Black Friday" doesn't exist in Canada, where Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October). Outside of North America, Buy Nothing Day is celebrated on the following Saturday. Occasional discussion has pointed out that, because of the anti-action of the event, it is very easy for people who are avoiding shopping on this day to "observe" the protest.


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