What do you call the day after Thanksgiving? For households that may have eaten a bit too much stuffing and pecan pie, it could be referred to as Diet Day. For those who are apprehensive about how early the holiday season begins, it may be labeled Christmas Creep Day. For years, Black Friday has been the informal name for the Friday following Thanksgiving. It has turned into a bonanza for the U.S. economy, transforming into a $60 billion spending spree. Since this is a 24-hour period that many consumers and businesses circle on their calendars, how did it come about anyway?
Black Friday: A Brief History
Black Friday is a term that was coined by the Philadelphia police in the 1950s. This phrase was how officers would describe the influx of suburban shoppers and tourists in the city to watch the Army-Navy football game, forcing the cops to work additional hours to contain the crowds and manage traffic. The chaos that ensued allowed shoplifters to take advantage of the situation, leading the authorities to add to their caseload.
Thirty years later, retailers reimagined Black Friday and used it to appeal to consumers. At this time of the year, retailers typically see their balance sheet transition from red to black, letting them finally earn a profit. Why not celebrate the occasion by passing savings onto the customer?
Sales commence, shoppers engulf the stores, and the start of the Christmas shopping season begins.
Indeed, there have been some other negative connotations associated with the name. For example, on Friday, September 24, 1869, Jay Gould and James Fisk, two speculators, triggered a boom-and-bust in gold prices that led to a steep market crash and a 50% collapse in commodity prices. Moreover, a myth has circulated around the internet that Black Friday was common in the early-19th century on Southern plantations where owners would sell slaves at a discount one day after Thanksgiving – but this has never been proven.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Retail experts present the case that Black Friday is losing its meaning. When you consider the plethora of shopping days throughout the year that offers comparable or even superior savings, what is the point of Black Friday, especially with the internet creating its own days?
Black Friday in July. Prime Day. Black Friday Week. Cyber Monday. The back-to-school shopping season. The list of days designated for consumption and savings is lengthy – and it continues to grow, which could amplify our deal fatigue.
Let’s face it: Black Friday has sparked ample negative publicity over the years. From people lining up on Thanksgiving to be the first to enter a store to purchase a waffle maker to fistfights inside stores over the latest G.I. Joe action figure, the event has sparked a discussion over consumerism and priorities.
That said, for consumers who do not have the means to purchase big-ticket items throughout the year, Black Friday does serve as an opportunity for low- or middle-income households to save upward of 70% on electronics, appliances, and other goodies for the family. Plus, for a two-thirds consumption nation, the tens of billions of dollars that are spent each year can support the U.S. economy.
It might be bedlam at 5 a.m. at the local Best Buy as anxious, sleep-deprived shoppers engage in battle over Bozo the Clown dolls, but this is the time-cost trade-off we make in our lives.
Despite what you think about Black Friday and the principles behind the shopping day, it has spawned something called Giving Tuesday. Every Tuesday after Thanksgiving, consumers donate money to a charity of their choice. It is still relatively new, but it has already led to Americans donating as much as $200 million – and this does not include volunteering, launching a fundraiser, or giving someone a helping hand. As we feed our pleasure senses, we also take the time to showcase our gratitude and contribute to a worthwhile organization, such as The Human Fund! Consumption breeds helping.