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A Brief History of Black Friday

Marcus Dean

14 November 2018

Time to Read

2 minute read

Huge reductions, crowded shops, and some too-good-to-be-true prices, Black Friday (and Cyber Monday) is a day to remember for bargain hunters up and down the country, but what’s the history behind it? Outside of knowing brief bullet points about its history – an association with Thanksgiving, starting in the US, etc… - how much do we really know about this day of mega savings? Here to educate with a short and hopefully enlightening history lesson about its past is Professor Fleetway. 

Having originated in America, this celebration of savings always falls on the first day after Thanksgiving, which itself always falls on the fourth Thursday of November. Back in the late 1930s, retailers were complaining that because of Thanksgiving historically falling on the fifth week of November, their holiday shopping season leading up to Christmas was too short and could lead to them going bankrupt. 

The problem was so serious that the retail industry joined together and petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to officially change the date. And even though the initial petition wasn’t a success, the change of date ended up becoming official by 1941.

From this date-change, stores began their official holiday sales and the day began to increase in popularity. The name Black Friday became famous in 1966, when a news story appeared in an advert in a magazine for stamp collectors. In the ad, the Philadelphia Police Department used the name in relation to the traffic jams and crowding encountered in downtown stores – and from there, the name grew in popularity and usage.

According to the National Retail Federation, historically in the US, shoppers did half of all their shopping on Black Friday – an absolutely huge number considering there is still around four weeks left of the holiday period. Although this number of physical sales is thought to have dropped considerably in recent years in the US, the retail holiday has become an international affair, with an incredible amount of online sales taking over the previous trend of physical sales.

In terms of the UK, Black Friday first gained traction in 2013, when ASDA took the lead from its parent company Walmart, and introduced its first Black Friday sale. In 2014, other retailers began to take note and join in with brands like John Lewis, Argos, and Very being early adopters. The holiday continues to rise in popularity with 2017 seeing an 8% increase from the previous year – with over £1.4 billion being spent.

Despite these huge numbers, British high streets, shopping centres, and retail parks were surprisingly sparse with foot traffic being down 8% too. This was because the majority of sales were made online – something that has become increasingly apparent all over the world. 

In what was first perceived as an inconsequential spike of online sales in 2005, the first Monday after Thanksgiving has become known as Cyber Monday in recent years. With an ever-increasing, online-only extra stream of revenue, Cyber Monday has grown into a valuable partner for Black Friday.

Since its inception, Black Friday has grown from a simple shopping day in the US to a truly global affair available to anyone with an internet connection. With the additional sales day of Cyber Monday already adding more deals to the fold, many companies have even begun pre and post-sales – turning a once-simple sales day into a whole sales period. And with so much choice, you better start browsing.

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