Although Black Friday is now established as the best day of the year to cash in on some pre-Christmas bargains, many shoppers don’t know the meaning behind the term.
A common assumption is that it comes from shops going from ‘the red’ into ‘the black’ due to a boost in profits during the sales, but the phrase has darker origins.
Here’s where ‘Black Friday’ comes from, and why it’s such a popular sales event.
What is Black Friday?
Black Friday is a weekend of huge price cuts, starting on the last Friday of November, the day following Thanksgiving celebrations.
Americans have taken advantage of the pre-Christmas sales since they became popular throughout the 1950s, with the day becoming the most successful of the year for retailers in the US.
The shopping extravaganza is now a firm favourite in the UK for consumers preparing for December 25, with Amazon, Argos, Currys and other big retailers slashing prices across tech, homeware and personal care, among many other products.
When is Black Friday this year?
Black Friday begins after Thanksgiving Day, and this year it will start on 27 November and last until the following Monday.
Where did the term ‘Black Friday’ come from?
Rather than being associated with sales and pre-Christmas bargains, Black Friday first came about due to a financial crash.
In Wall Street, financiers Jim Fisk and Jay Gould bought lots of gold, hoping that prices would skyrocket and that they’d be able to sell it for big profits.
However in September 1869 the price of gold crashed and they were left bankrupt, along with other Wall Street workers.
This is where the term ‘Black Friday’ first came from - but it wasn’t till years later that it became associated with festivities.
What’s the history of Black Friday sales?
It was the police who first associated the term ‘Black Friday’ with post-Thanksgiving sales.
In the 1950s, crowds of shoppers visited Philadelphia following Thanksgiving due to the annual Army-Navy american football match, leading to busier shops, an increase in shoplifters and a huge workload for officers as they attempted to manage the carnage.
The police were unable to take a day off and had to work overtime to control the crowds, so they started referring to the day as ‘Black Friday’.
Despite the negative connotations, the term ‘black’ may have been adopted by some retailers to pay homage to the old bookkeeping practice of recording losses in red and profit in black.
Merchants believed they would sell enough on Black Friday to keep them in profit for the rest of the year.
In the early years of Black Friday spreading across the states, some retailers didn’t want to accept the name and attempted to rename it ‘Big Friday’.
However, this did not gain traction and by 1966, the term Black Friday was being used in publishing, firstly in The American Philatelist magazine.
The shopping phenomenon continued to be referred to as ‘Black Friday’ throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with shops attracting huge crowds and advertising ‘Black Friday Sales’.
By 1990, the term was being used across America, with retailers considering it the start of their Christmas sales.
Is ‘Black Friday’ linked to slavery?
Rumours have suggested that the name stemmed from the slave trade in America, with unverified reports that slave owners could trade and buy slaves for less money after Thanksgiving.
However, there appears to be no evidence behind these claims.
How will lockdown impact Black Friday in the UK, this year?
With the UK government announcing a second lockdown across England, over 500,000 shops will now close until December 2.
Essential stores, such as supermarkets, will remain open for trading but many clothes, technology and toy stores have been forced to pull the shutters down on their Black Friday sales.
According to new research by Springboard, a shopper tracing research service, footfall could decline by over 80%, similar to that in April, at the height of the pandelic.
However, online purchases will continue as normal, meaning tech giants and non-essential retailers can continue to trade online.
Therefore, the hit will most likely be felt by small, local businesses who do not have the capacity to store large quantities of products.