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Black Friday – What’s all the fuss about?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

✦ Black Friday is a term that has become increasingly common in recent years although not many people are aware of its origins and how it became the biggest, and busiest, shopping day on the calendar.


Originating in the United States, Black Friday is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving every year and, as the latter always falls on the last Thursday of November, Black Friday is thus always the last Friday of the 11th month. Widely regarded as signifying the start of the Christmas shopping season, it is one of, if not the busiest shopping days of the year when retailers offer often vastly reduced deals on a wide range of goods, both in-house and online. It is a phenomenon that has spread outside of the U.S. in recent years to the extent it is now recognised in many countries as a landmark event in the retail world.


The use of the term “black” is actually a curious one as it often denotes negativity or an adverse occasion - think Black Monday on October 19, 1987 when the Dow Jones Index dropped 22% in a single day, the largest one-day drop in stock market history, or Black Thursday on October 24, 1929 when another U.S. stock market crash brought about the start of the Great Depression. However, in this instance the term is apt as it typically denotes the busiest shopping day of the year for most retailers when they can often turn their balance sheets from trading at a loss (in the red) to a profit (in the black).


Originating in the United States, Black Friday is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving every year |  Brilliant-Online
Originating in the United States, Black Friday is traditionally the day after Thanksgiving every year

However, it is widely acknowledged that the term “Black Friday” actually originated from elsewhere. In the early 1960s in Philadelphia huge suburban crowds would descend on the City of Brotherly Love the day after the Thanksgiving holiday to begin their festive shopping spree, which would subsequently cause a logistical nightmare for the local police force – ensuing crowd management, busy streets and stores, traffic jams, accidents and crime left the Philly police with a genuine headache and thus the term “Black Friday” was coined to describe the chaos they experienced on an annual basis. The name stuck and was soon being utilised in other cities across the country before gaining traction globally. It really came to prominence as a household term at the turn of the century when online retailers started to compete with physical vendors by running a series of cut-price deals around the date.


Nowadays, the most popular Black Friday deals typically involve consumer electronics, such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, tablets and game systems, although the cost of many other goods also get slashed. Over the years shoppers would literally queue or set up camp outside stores for hours and hours in advance in the hope of being the first inside to get their hands on a range of jaw-dropping deals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the high emotion at stake, underlined by the increasingly used term FOMO (fear of missing out), tensions often run high and ugly brawls and skirmishes have been witnessed at stores all around the world in recent years, from the U.S. to South Africa and from Brazil to the U.K. Shockingly, one WalMart worker, Jdimytai Damour, was trampled to death by fervent shoppers in a tragic incident in Long Island, New York in 2008 and The New York Times was prompted in 2017 to run an article titled “What Turns Black Friday Shoppers Into Raging Hordes?” which engaged expert social scientists and psychologists to try and fathom why ordinary shoppers can turn into dangerous mobs.


Nowadays, the most popular Black Friday deals typically involve consumer electronics, such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, tablets and game systems |  Brilliant-Online
Nowadays, the most popular Black Friday deals typically involve consumer electronics, such as mobile phones, TVs, computers, tablets and game systems

Of course, this is the extreme example of mass crowds being whipped into hysteria by the lure of drastically discounted consumer goods and not something, thankfully, that is associated with the date in most places around the world. Mirroring the emergence of e-commerce, many shoppers now do so online on Black Friday, choosing to avoid the queues, the crowds and the hassle. Indeed, it was exactly this that saw Cyber Monday emerge. Taking place (surprise, surprise!) on the Monday immediately following Black Friday and geared specifically for online shoppers, Lifewire describes it as starting as “a hangover sale from Black Friday”. Some retailers even offer reduced deals before Black Friday so it is always worth keeping your eyes peeled if you’ve something special or specific in mind around the date. Ultimately, none of us can turn down a good deal so good luck hunting them down this Black Friday!

 

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