The Origin and Evolution of Black FridayS

Monday, November 24, 2014

What in the world is happening to holiday tradition? Thanksgiving is on the doorstep of getting gobbled up by ever-growing shopping holidays of their own.

A prevailing theory attributes the name Black Friday to the accounting term of being "in the black," in that the Friday after Thanksgiving was the first day that retailers could realize a fourth fiscal quarter profit. That's a good guess, but the first publicly documented use of the term Black Friday is actually attributed to a 1960's Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper reporter, who was covering the city's gridlocked traffic. The reporter had appropriated the term from police officers, who directed traffic as out-of-towners arrived for that Saturday's Army-Navy college football game. Interestingly enough, the game's traffic (and the term itself) caused local business owners to complain about the crowds keeping out paying customers and affecting their sales. Little did these business owners know that, 50 years later, Black Friday would be setting world-wide sales records for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers.

I remember, in my own high school days, the big thing to do after Thanksgiving dinner was go to the Arcadia Valley Thanksgiving Tournament, the preeminent tournament to kick off the basketball season. This year will mark its 88th anniversary. Bowling Green is the oldest tournament in Missouri, but only by one year. More recently, there is the Riverbend Classic, on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving, at New Madrid County Central.

According to the National Retail Federation, the estimated number of consumers who shopped Thursday through Monday of Thanksgiving weekend in 2005 was just under 145 million. In 2012, that number increased more than 70 percent, to 247 million in-store and online shoppers, who spent an estimated $59.1 billion over the five-day period.

While in-store sales still make up the lion's share of Black Friday sales, it is the online Black Friday sales that are posting record numbers. In 2012, Black Friday topped $1 billion in online sales, for the first time in history. But that record didn't last long, as Cyber Monday stole the crown just three days later, with a record $1.5 billion in online sales. With retailers seeing these record numbers, it is of little wonder they are naturally trying to extend the Black Friday shopping period.

Once a Thanksgiving afterthought, Black Friday sales now engulf the historic holiday, with stores opening as early as Thanksgiving Day and cyber sales lasting through the first week of December. And it is the success of Black Friday that spawned not only Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, but also shopping holidays that extend almost to Christmas Day, including Green Monday, Free Shipping Day and Super Saturday.

While many have voiced their discomfort over these shopping holidays encroaching on family time, others have turned to their mobile devices and found hot deals online, without having to leave their family gatherings to get in on the savings. Cell phones and tablets have become increasingly popular shopping tools for Black Friday fans, as almost one in four Black Friday shoppers now browse the online sales through their mobile devices. While the mobile checkout experience may still be a little rough around the edges, IBM's Black Friday 2012 Report claims that online sales through mobile devices increased from 9.8 percent in 2011, to 16 percent in 2012.

Black Friday has rapidly evolved over the past decade, and much of that has to do with the increased accessibility of online sales. The Black Friday landscape has changed. No longer does one need to stand around in a parking lot for hours on end, braving the elements and other shoppers, for the chance at sniffing out a door-buster. Online shopping has allowed retailers to reach a much larger customer base of shoppers who otherwise would not participate in Black Friday. Mobile shopping and real-time price comparison has forced retailers to remain competitive, not only against their fellow brick-and-mortar competitors, but online competition as well, blurring the once well-defined line between in-store and online shopping.

Each year, friends and family get together and organize their shopping lists and plans of attack for Black Friday. Retailers plan ahead, for months, to staff and stock their stores for the shopping rush. Black Friday has become a consumer holiday like no other, and it is almost here. In fact, Black Friday is on the verge of becoming Black November, which now begins one week before Halloween.