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The History of Black Friday and Other Shopping Holidays

Nov 12th, 2021

Thanksgiving is coming up soon, offering us the opportunity to take stock of our lives and to be grateful for what we have. Then, the very next day, we get to scramble over each other for deals on things we want. The next day we get to support our small businesses, and a few days after that we get to order whatever we want from Amazon. Finally, we wrap everything up with a charitable day that’s focused on generosity. 

What a wild ride!

The weekend of shopping holidays at the end of November changes and evolves as the years go by, fueled by shopping habits and market trends, but there’s no denying that Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday and Giving Tuesday make for an eventful few days. 

Here are the origins of these commercial holidays and the stories behind them.

The creation of Black Friday & other shopping holidays

Black Friday

There are a few theories floating around that describe the origins of Black Friday, and you may be surprised that not all of them are rooted in fact. At least, not all the way. 

The prevailing theory is that Black Friday was the day that companies finally turned a profit — that is, they went from the “red” (i.e. financial loss) to the “black” (i.e. profit). And while some companies’ financial books may show just that, it’s not the true origin of the name.

The truth lies in 1960s-era Philadelphia, where city policemen were getting overwhelmed by a sudden influx of shoppers who wanted to do their holiday shopping after Thanksgiving. The traffic was worse, there was more shoplifting than normal, there were huge crowds and there were generally more accidents and issues than normal. Plus, if there was an Army-Navy football game, everything was twice as busy. 

The policemen who had to deal with the all-out craziness of the Friday after Thanksgiving coined the term “Black Friday,” and the nickname soon took hold in the city.

In order to combat the negative connotation “Black Friday” gave off, companies in Philadelphia tried to change the name to “Big Friday,” but with no success. It was only when companies pushed the red-to-black narrative in the 1980s that the term “Black Friday” took on its more lucrative meaning. 

Small Business Saturday 

Small Business Saturday is a fairly recent addition to the shopping holiday calendar, having only hit the shelves, so to speak, on November 27,  2010. 

The holiday kicked off as a campaign by credit card company American Express to encourage consumers to shop within their own local communities during the hustle and bustle of Black Friday weekend. The campaign was a great success, and a year later the holiday was made official when President Obama and a host of Washington State officials showed their support for the movement, placing the full support of the Small Business Administration behind the holiday. 

Since then, Small Business Saturday has grown in both participation levels and sales. On Small Business Saturday 2013, consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion at small businesses across the country, and in 2015 that number tripled to $16.2 billion! Around 110 million consumers participated in Small Business Saturday in 2019, and the numbers just keep growing!

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday grew out of a noticeable growth of online sales the Monday after Thanksgiving, starting nearly two decades ago. Recognizing the repeating trend and anticipating it to continue, The National Retail Federation (NRF) gave the pattern a name in 2005, coining the day “Cyber Monday.”

This Cyber Monday trend emerged from both the consumers’ and online retailers’ desires to participate in holiday shopping without having to brave the chaos of Black Friday. Online retailers couldn't provide the dramatic effects of a brick-and-mortar store during Black Friday, and consumers wanted to shop more leisurely and in more comfort; the answer, then, was a deal-filled day of shopping that people could participate in without ever leaving their work desks.

The NRF attributed the high rates of online shopping on Cyber Monday to the high-speed internet provided in workplaces that allowed for easy online shopping. That, plus the efforts of the online retailers to attract more online consumers, created the perfect environment for Cyber Monday to flourish. 

Cyber Monday deals gave consumers the opportunity to snag the items that were limited in physical stores, as well creating the sense of scarcity that encouraged more sales. Retail giants like Amazon and Walmart competed to outdo each other in online sales, and some stores began to extend their Cyber Monday sales into a Cyber Week. Even as the 2008 Great Recession hit the economy hard, Cyber Monday sales continued to rise to a cool $846 million.

Cyber Monday 2020 saw a record high of online shopping, reaching almost $10 billion in spending, overtaking Black Friday spending by $1.2 billion.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday originated in 2012 by Henry Timms of the 92nd Street Y in New York City in partnership with the United Nations Federation. The idea behind the movement was to encourage generosity and involvement with one’s own community, wherever that may be, so that people could return to the mindset of gratitude following a weekend of consumerism. 

The movement evolved and grew over the years as corporations, communities and individuals took part in #GivingTuesday in their own ways. Today the movement is celebrated in 75 countries around the world and in over 240 campaigns in the United States alone! 

In 2013, just one year after the movement started, an estimated $23 million was moved during the global campaign, and by 2020 that number had skyrocketed to $2.47 billion!

This year, as you go about your holiday shopping, remember how these holidays came about and how you — as a consumer — fit into it all!

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Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/gonghuimin468

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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