Where did the term "Black Friday" come from, anyway? It sounds scary.
There are several explanations floating around as to how the term first popped up. One story dates back to September 24, 1869, a day when gold prices dropped dramatically, causing panic on the stock market. However, it wasn't until the 1950s that the term was used to describe the Friday after Thanksgiving. It has been said that factory owners dubbed the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" because so many employees called in sick (an illness comparable in scale to the Black Plague). Another explanation dates back to 1961 Philadelphia, where the police dreaded "Black Friday" because it caused massive traffic jams, sidewalk crowds, and mob scenes at local stores. Despite the city's effort to rename it to something more positive, the term stuck.
As early as the 1980s, the negative connotation of the term began to turn around. More and more people began to believe that "Black Friday" is so named because it is a day when businesses experience profits, perhaps for the first time in a year, and are able to write in their ledgers with black ink (which signifies gains) instead of red (which signifies losses). Whether this was initially the work of businesses looking to capitalize on the concept, people making a logical connection on their own, or a bit of both, no one can be sure. In the present day, "Black Friday" certainly seems to have become a net positive for both businesses and consumers.
How did Black Friday become the beautiful mess it is today?
Just a few decades ago, the benefits of tapping into a motivated consumer's mindset soon became apparent to businesses, and the Black Friday sale was born. With Thanksgiving over and the winter holidays the next major special events to prepare for, people are just itching to hike off some of that turkey weight and stock up on holiday gifts. One-day blowout sales have now become the norm, especially for large chain retailers. They play on the sense of urgency of the public, who are desperate to get their hands on the limited supplies of the hottest holiday gifts to impress their loved ones.
Unfortunately, the rabid consumerism which is at its peak on Black Friday has given way to some unfortunate side effects. On occasion, people have become so desperate to beat out other shoppers that they have resorted to acts of violence. Every year, there are reports of physical altercations among shoppers who don't want to be left without the hottest new product. And the rush and excitement has also been known to lead to people literally trampling over one another for the most sought-after goods.
If the violence has made you lose faith in humanity, perhaps the unbridled, competitive capitalism will perk you up. Retailers have been moving their sale start times up every year, with many stores opening in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday. If one store opened at 6, another opened at 5, and another at 4, and another wasting no time by opening at midnight. Wal-Mart notably began its sale at 10pm on Thanksgiving in 2011 and moved it up to 8pm in 2012. Several retailers followed suit, including Sears, Kmart, Target, and Toys R Us. Black Friday has now become such a gluttonous beast that it has devoured part of Thanksgiving Day.
Is it really worth going out shopping on Black Friday?
That depends. The benefits are obvious: retailers are offering steals on some of the hottest products of the season. But there are also some not-so-nice things to take into consideration. Let's weigh the pros and cons:
- uniquely amazing sales
- completing your holiday shopping early
- easy access to the most popular items
- you can walk off some Thanksgiving calories
- the thrill of the bargain hunt
- you might have to get up REALLY early
- nightmarish traffic
- getting cozy with lots of strangers (B.O., slow walkers, aggressive types, etc...)
- it's holiday-adjacent time you could be spending with your family
- you're gonna need to spend a lot of time crafting your plan of attack
There is a lot to consider Black Friday shopping is not for the faint of heart. But if you've got what it takes, you can make away with a great haul and kick some holiday shopping butt. Of course, there's nothing to be ashamed of if you prefer to wait until Cyber Monday and do all of your shopping in the comfort of your own home (or office, or anywhere you bring your smartphone or tablet). The choice is yours.