Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the United States (the fourth Thursday of November), often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shoppingseason. In recent years, most major retailers have opened extremely early and offered promotional sales to kick off the holiday shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations. Black Friday is not a federal holiday, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the day after off, followed by a weekend, 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 was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss (“in the red”) from January through November, and “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or “in the black”. For large retail chains like Walmart, their net income is positive starting from January 1, and Black Friday can boost their year to date net profit from $14 billion to $19 billion.
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, Kohl’s, Macy’s,Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day (except in states where opening on Thanksgiving is prohibited due to blue laws, such as Massachusetts where they still opened around midnight), prompting calls for a walkout among some workers.Black Friday shopping is known for attracting aggressive crowds, with annual reports of assaults, shootings, and throngs of people trampling on other shoppers in an attempt to get the best deal on a product before supplies run out.
A crowded shopping center on Black Friday
The states which have official public holidays for state government employees on “The Day After Thanksgiving” include Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana,Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas,Washington and West Virginia.
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 (after Saturday, December 18).
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. 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 sale 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 news media usually give heavy play to reports of Black Friday shopping and their implications for the commercial success of the Christmas shopping season, but the relationship between Black Friday sales and retail sales for the full holiday season is quite weak and may even be negative.
The large population centres on 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. Starting in 2008 and 2009, due to the parity of theCanadian dollar compared with the American dollar, several major Canadian retailers ran Black Friday deals as their own to discourage shoppers from leaving Canada.
The year 2012 saw the biggest Black Friday to date in Canada, as Canadian retailers embraced it in an attempt to keep shoppers from travelling across the border.
Before the advent of Black Friday in Canada, the most comparable holiday was Boxing Day 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 promoted to nations outside of North America such as the United Kingdom by major online retailers like Amazon and Apple. In 2013 ASDA (part of Walmart) announced it’s “Walmart’s Black Friday by ASDA” campaign promoting the Black Friday concept in the UK.
In 2012, after two years of disappointing results, several department stores in Brazil joined their foreign competitors in a successful Black Friday which more than doubled the total revenue in comparison to the previous year.
In Mexico, Black Friday was the inspiration for the government and retailing industry to create an annual weekend of discounts and extended credit terms, El Buen Fin, meaning “the good weekend” in Spanish. Black Friday is known as Viernes Negro in Costa Rica.
Origin of the term
“Black Friday” as a term has been used in multiple contexts, going back to the 19th century, where in the United States it was associated with a financial crisis of 1869. The earliest known invocation of “Black Friday” to refer to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving was made in a public relations newsletter from 1961 that is clear on the negative implications of the name and its origin in Philadelphia:
For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days normally are the two following Thanksgiving Day. Resulting traffic jams are an irksome problem to the police and, in Philadelphia, it became customary for officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday. Hardly a stimulus for good business, the problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country’s most experienced municipal PR executives. He recommended adoption of a positive approach which would convert Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.
The attempt to rename Black Friday was unsuccessful, and its continued use is shown in a 1966 publication on the day’s significance in Philadelphia:
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.
The term “Black Friday” began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, bothdatelined 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 Pennsylvania’s 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.”
The term’s spread was gradual, however, and in 1985 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that retailers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles were still unaware of the term.
Many merchants objected to the use of a negative term to refer to one of the most important shopping days in the year. 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 when retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year’s profits (the black). The earliest known use that presents the “black ink theory” appeared in the November 28, 1981 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
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.”
This, like the 1961 and 1966 examples above, was found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society.
The Christmas shopping season is of enormous importance to American retailers and, while most retailers intend to and actually do make profits during every quarter of the year, some retailers are so dependent on the Christmas shopping season that the quarter including Christmas produces all the year’s profits and compensates for losses from other quarters.
In 2006, a man shopping at Best Buy was recorded on video assaulting another shopper. Unruly Walmart shoppers at a store outside Columbus, Ohio, quickly flooded in the doors at opening, pinning several employees against stacks of merchandise. Nine shoppers in a California mall were injured, including an elderly woman who had to be taken to the hospital, when the crowd rushed to grab gift certificates that had been released from the ceiling.
In 2008, a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 am opening of the local Wal-Mart. As opening time approached, the crowd grew anxious and when the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, and trampling a 34-year old employee to death. The shoppers did not appear concerned with the victim’s fate, expressing refusal to halt their stampede when other employees attempted to intervene and help the injured employee, complaining that they had been waiting in the cold and were not willing to wait any longer. Shoppers had begun assembling as early as 9:00 PM the evening before. Even when police arrived and attempted to render aid to the injured man, shoppers continued to pour in, shoving and pushing the officers as they made their way into the store. Several other people incurred minor injuries, including a pregnant woman who had to be taken to the hospital. The incident may be the first case of a death occurring during Black Friday sales; according to theNational Retail Federation, “We are not aware of any other circumstances where a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving.”
On the same day, two people were fatally shot during an altercation at a Toys ‘r Us in Palm Desert, California.
During Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys ‘R’ Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object. A Toys for Tots volunteer in Georgia was stabbed by a shoplifter. AnIndianapolis woman was arrested after causing a disturbance by arguing with other Wal-Mart shoppers. She had been asked to leave the store, but refused. A man was arrested at a Florida Wal-Mart on drug and weapons charges after other shoppers waiting in line for the store to open noticed that he was carrying a handgun and reported the matter to police. He was discovered to also be carrying two knives and a pepper spray grenade. A man in Buffalo, New York, was trampled when doors opened at a Target store and unruly shoppers rushed in, in an episode reminiscent of the deadly 2008 Wal-Mart stampede.
On Black Friday 2011, a woman at a Porter Ranch, California Walmart used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing minor injuries to at least 10 people who had been waiting hours for Black Friday savings. It was later reported that the incident caused 20 injuries. The incident started as people waited in line for the newly discounted Xbox 360. A witness said a woman with two children in tow became upset with the way people were pushing in line. The witness said she pulled out pepper spray and sprayed the other people in line. Another account stated: “The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox 360s, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping, when the woman began spraying people ‘in order to get an advantage,’ according to the police. In an incident outside a Walmart store in San Leandro, California, one man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping at about 1:45 am.
Also stemming from Black Friday unruliness in 2011, 73-year old greeter Jan Sullivan was fired from a Tampa area Wal-Mart after she was shoved by a Black Friday shopper. Sullivan alleges that when she attempted to stop an unnamed woman from exiting through a door where exits were not being permitted, the woman pushed her. Sullivan claims that as she fell, she instinctively tried to grab onto the woman to keep from falling. Since Wal-Mart employees are not allowed to touch customers, Sullivan was then fired. The story has been a source of some controversy for Wal-Mart and garnered much community support for Sullivan, including media coverage and at least two Indiegogo fundraisers were launched to support her financially after the incident.
On Black Friday 2012, two people were shot outside a Wal-Mart in Tallahassee, Florida during a dispute over a parking space.
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’ because Christmas is always the next major holiday following Thanksgiving.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Santa 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 byMacy’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.
In recent years, retailers have been trending towards opening on Black Thursday, occurring Thanksgiving evening. In 2011, Walmartbegan its holiday sale at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day for the first time. In 2012, Walmart began its Black Friday sales at 8 p.m. the day before on Thanksgiving; stores that are normally open 24 hours a day on a regular basis started their sales at this time, while stores that do not have round-the-clock shopping hours opened at 8 p.m. Competitors Sears and Kmart will also be opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday night, while Target and Toys “R” Us will be opening at 9 p.m. Other retailers, such as Lord & Taylor are also opening on Thanksgiving for the first time. In 2013, more retailers announced plans to open earlier on Thanksgiving. Kmart plans to open at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving and stay open for 41 consecutive hours until 11 p.m. Friday. Toys “R” Us is planning to open at 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving. Walmart plans to start Black Friday sales at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving while Best Buy plans to open at 6 p.m. JCPenney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears, and Target are all planning to open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. In addition, Simon Property Group plans to open its malls at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving. 15,000 consumers “stormed the entrances” at Macy’s Herald Square for the 8:00 PM opening on Thursday.
A number of media sources began referring to this instead by either the name Gray Thursday or Brown Thursday.
The term Cyber Monday, a neologism invented in 2005 by the National Retail Federation’s division Shop.org, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday based on a trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. Retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work. In 2010, Hitwise reported that:
Thanksgiving weekend offered a strong start, especially as Black Friday sales continued to grow in popularity. For the 2nd consecutive year, Black Friday was the highest day for retail traffic during the holiday season, followed by Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. The highest year-over-year increases in visits took place on Cyber Monday and Black Friday with growth of 16% and 13%, respectively.
Advertising tip sites
Some websites offer information about day-after-Thanksgiving 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 Walmart, Target, OfficeMax, Big Lots, and Staples) have claimed that the advertisements they send in advance of Black Friday and the prices included in those advertisements are copyrighted and are trade secrets.
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. This policy may come from the 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.[original research?]
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, careful timing may mitigate the take-down notice. An Internet service provider in 2003 brought suit againstBest Buy, Kohl’s, and Target Corporation, 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.
Usage of Black Friday Advertising Tip sites and buying direct varies by state in the U.S., influenced in large part by differences in shipping costs and whether a state has a sales tax. However, in recent years, the convenience of online shopping has increased the number of cross-border shoppers seeking bargains from outside of the U.S., especially from Canada. Statistics Canada indicates that online cross-border shopping by Canadians has increased by about 300M a year since 2002. The complex nature of additional fees such as taxes, duties and brokerage can make calculating the final cost of cross-border Black Friday deals difficult. Dedicated cross-border shopping solutions such as the Canadian shopping platform Wishabi and Canada Post’s Borderfree exist to mitigate the problem through estimation of the various cost involved.
The National Retail Federation releases figures on the sales for each Thanksgiving weekend. The Federation’s definition of “Black Friday weekend” includes Thursday, Friday, Saturday and projected spending for Sunday. The survey estimates number of shoppers, not number of people.
The length of the shopping season is not the same across all years: the date for Black Friday varies between 23 and 29 November, while Christmas Eve is fixed at 24 December. 2012 had the longest shopping season since 2007.
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