The Origins and Evolution of Black Friday

Black Friday 2014 Evolution BFAds

A prevailing theory attributes the name to the accounting term of being “in the black,” in that, Black Friday represented the first day that retailers would realize a Q4 profit. It's a good guess, but the first publicly documented use of the term Black Friday is actually attributed to a 1960's Philadelphia Bulletin 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 v. 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 fifty years later, Black Friday would be setting world-wide sales records for both brick-and-mortar and online retailers. According to the National Retail Federation, the estimated number of consumers who shopped Thursday through Monday in 2005 was just under 145 million. In 2012, that number increased more than 70-percent to 247 million in-store and online shoppers - spending 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 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 after-thought, 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 the aforementioned shopping holidays encroaching on precious 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 fanatics, as almost 1-in-4 Black Friday shoppers now browse the online sales through their mobile devices. And 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 have increased from 9.8-percent in 2011 to 16-percent in 2012.

Black Friday has evolved tremendously in 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 mostly-empty parking lot for hours on end, braving the elements and other shoppers just for the chance of sniffing 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 keep 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. It is a rare case where consumers and retailers both win.

Friends and family get together and organize their shopping lists and plan of attacks for Black Friday. Retailers plan ahead for months to staff and stock their stores for the rush of deal-savvy shoppers on Black Friday. Black Friday has become a consumer holiday like no other and it is almost here!

Stay tuned to BFAds for all coverage surrounding Black Friday 2013 and the Black Friday 2013 ads all the way through the entirety of the Christmas shopping season!

September 8, 2014
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