Black Friday history myths and facts

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Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in the biggest economy in the world. Full from their Thanksgiving feasts, millions of US shoppers descend on stores across the country on the Friday after the holiday, hoping to save on their Christmas shopping. But as ever more promotions proliferate (increase rapidly in number) - add Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday to the shopping calendar - the question remains: Just what is Black Friday anyway? Here are 10 surprising facts about America's unofficial paean to all things commercial.

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"Black Friday" used to refer to stock market crashes in the 1800s.

Although it is now known as the biggest shopping day in the US, the term "Black Friday" originally referred to very different events. "Black for centuries has been used for various calamities," says linguist Benjamin Zimmer, executive editor of

In the US, the first time the term was used was on 24 September 1869, when two speculators, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Stock Exchange. When the government stepped in to correct the distortion by flooding the market with gold, prices plummeted and many investors lost sizable fortunes.

What Is Black Friday?

lack Friday refers to the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, which has also traditionally been a holiday itself for many employees. It is typically a day full of special shopping deals and big discounts and is considered the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

The sales made on Black Friday are often thought of as a litmus test for the overall economic condition of the country and a way for economists to measure the confidence of the average American when it comes to discretionary spending. Those who share the Keynesian assumption that spending drives economic activity view lower Black Friday sales figures as a harbinger of slower growth.

KEY TAKEAWAYS Black Friday refers to the day after Thanksgiving and is symbolically seen as the start of the critical holiday shopping season. Stores offer big discounts on electronics, toys, and other gifts. Also important to retailers: Cyber Monday, the first day back to work for many consumers after the long holiday weekend, on which online retailers offer major discounts.

Understanding Black Friday

It's common for retailers to offer special promotions online and in-store on Black Friday. Many open their doors during the pre-dawn hours on Black Friday to attract customers. To keep up with the competition, some retailers have gone so far as to keep their operations going on the Thanksgiving holiday, while others begin offering deals earlier during November.

Really avid bargain hunters have been known to camp out overnight on Thanksgiving to secure a place in line at a favorite store; the most fanatical have been known to skip Thanksgiving dinner altogether and camp out in parking lots for days or even weeks to get great deals. The promotions usually continue through Sunday, and both brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers see a spike in sales.1 XXX

Black Friday also refers to a stock market catastrophe that took place on Sept. 24, 1869. On that day, after a period of rampant speculation, the price of gold plummeted, and the markets crashed.

Black Friday and Retail Spending

Retailers may spend an entire year planning their Black Friday sales. They use the day as an opportunity to offer rock-bottom prices on overstock inventory and to offer doorbusters and discounts on seasonal items, such as holiday decorations and typical holiday gifts.

Retailers also offer significant discounts on big-ticket items and top-selling brands of TVs, smart devices, and other electronics, luring customers in the hope that, when inside, they will purchase higher-margin goods. The contents of Black Friday advertisements are often so highly anticipated that retailers go to great lengths to ensure they don't leak out publicly beforehand.

Consumers often shop on Black Friday for the hottest trending items, which can lead to stampedes and violence in the absence of adequate security. For example, on Black Friday in 1983, customers engaged in scuffles, fistfights, and stampedes in stores across the U.S. to buy Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, that year's must-have toy, which was also believed to be in short supply.2 Appallingly, a worker at a big store was even trampled to death on Black Friday in 2008, as throngs of shoppers pushed their way into the store when the doors opened.3

Surprising Origins of Black Friday

The concept of retailers throwing post-Turkey Day sales started long before "Black Friday" was actually coined. In an effort to kick off the holiday shopping season with a bang and attract hordes of shoppers, stores have promoted major deals the day after Thanksgiving for decades, banking on the fact that many companies and businesses gave employees that Friday off.4

So why the name? Some say the day is called Black Friday as an homage to the term "black" referring to profitability, which stems from the old bookkeeping practice of recording profits in black ink and losses in red ink. The idea is retail businesses sell enough on this Friday (and the ensuing weekend) to put themselves "in the black” for the rest of the year.4

However, long before it started appearing in advertisements and commercials, the term was actually coined by overworked Philadelphia police officers. In the 1950s, crowds of shoppers and visitors flooded the City of Brotherly Love the day after Thanksgiving. Not only did Philadelphia stores tout major sales and the unveiling of holiday decorations on this special day, but the city also hosted the Army-Navy football game on Saturday of the same weekend.4

As a result, traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts to deal with the throngs of drivers and pedestrians, and they were not allowed to take the day off. Over time, the annoyed officers—using a descriptive that's no longer acceptable—started to refer to this dreaded workday as Black Friday.4

The term spread to store salespeople who used "Black Friday" to describe the long lines and general chaos they had to deal with on that day. It remained Philadelphia slang for a few decades, spreading to a few nearby cities, such as Trenton, N.J.

Finally, in the mid-1990s—celebrating the positive connotation of black ink—"Black Friday” swept the nation and started to appear in print and TV ad campaigns across the United States.4

The Evolution of Black Friday

Somewhere along the way, Black Friday made the giant leap from congested streets and crowded stores to fevered shoppers fighting over parking spaces and tussling over the latest must-have toy. When did Black Friday become the frenzied, over-the-top shopping event it is today?

That would be in the 2000s when Black Friday was officially designated the biggest shopping day of the year. Until then, that title had gone to the Saturday before Christmas. Yet, as more retailers started touting "can’t miss” post-Thanksgiving sales, and the Black Friday discounts grew deeper and deeper, American consumers could no longer resist the pull of this big shopping day.1

In 2011, Walmart announced that, instead of opening its doors on Friday morning, it would start sales on Thanksgiving evening. That started a frenzy among other big-box retailers who quickly followed suit. Today, Black Friday is a longer event—a Black Weekend.1

Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

For online retailers, a similar tradition has arisen on the Monday following Thanksgiving—Cyber Monday. The idea is that consumers return to work after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, ready to start shopping. Online retailers often herald their promotions and sales prior to the actual day in order to compete against the Black Friday offerings at brick-and-mortar stores.

As a result, in terms of sales, Cyber Monday has proved a hit among shoppers. Though Cyber Monday had traditionally been the biggest online shopping day of the year, it was surpassed by Black Friday in 2019.5

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), an estimated 186.4 million consumers in the U.S. shopped during the 2020 five-day holiday weekend between Thanksgiving Day and Cyber Monday, down slightly compared to 2019, but still higher than 2018's $165.9 million. The average amount spent on holiday items during the weekend was $311.75, down 13.9% from the $361.90 average in 2019. Of that total, $224.48, was spent on gifts.6

In 2020, for the first time, more than 100 million people shopped online on Black Friday and the number of online-only shoppers increased 44% for the entire period. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many retailers remained closed on Thanksgiving 2020 and offered Black Friday deals online instead.6

Also part of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend shopping bonanza is Small Business Saturday, which was created to encourage consumers to shop locally at small businesses.

The Significance of Black Friday

Some investors and analysts look at Black Friday numbers as a way to gauge the overall health of the entire retail industry. Others scoff at the notion that Black Friday has any real fourth-quarter predictability for the stock markets as a whole. Instead, they suggest that it only causes very short-term gains or losses.

However, in general, the stock market can be affected by having extra days off for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It tends to see increased trading activity and higher returns the day before a holiday or a long weekend, a phenomenon known as the holiday effect or the weekend effect. Many traders look to capitalize on these seasonal bumps.

When Is Black Friday?

Black Friday occurs the day after Thanksgiving. In 2021, Black Friday takes place on Nov. 26.

Why Is Black Friday Important to Economists?

The money spent by consumers on Black Friday is seen as a measure of the economy. It gives economists a way to gauge consumer confidence and discretionary spending.

What Is Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday takes place on the Monday following the Thanksgiving weekend. Online retailers offer sales on this day and traditional retailers offer exclusive, website-only deals.

myths and facts

Myth 1: Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year.

Many people consider the day after Thanksgiving to be the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season. In the United States, several employers give their employees the Friday after Thanksgiving off, as part of the Thanksgiving weekend.

As a result, there are more potential shoppers in the streets on Black Friday that can boost retail sales. This, coupled with the amount of Black Friday advertisement, long queues, and crazy shopping frenzies shown on the TV definitely makes it seem like Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year.


Black Friday sure seems like the biggest shopping day of the year. However, statistics from the International Council of Shopping Centres (ICSC) disproves this myth. Turns out, consumers actually spend more in the days leading up to Christmas, compared to Black Friday itself.

According to a 2016 ICSC Report, 61% of consumers expected similar deals to happen in December, and 29% believed the deals in December would be even better compared to Black Friday deals. In fact, the last Saturday before Christmas, known as Super Saturday, traditionally hold the title of the best day of the year for businesses in terms of sales.

Myth 2: It is called Black Friday because it is the first profitable day of the year for retail businesses.

​ Traditionally, most retail businesses operated at a loss for most of the year, making their profits solely during the holiday season. In a company’s financial records, common accounting practices would record losses in red ink and gains in black ink.

The day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the season when retailers would go from being “in the red” to “back in the black”. Hence, why we call it “Black Friday”. Answer: FICTION

Although this myth gives an entertaining explanation for the origin of the name “Black Friday”, it is incorrect. According to the History channel, this story was actually created in order to reinvent Black Friday, and hide the negative aspects of the real origin of the name.

Myth 3: Black Friday is the busiest day of the year for plumbers

Plumbers receive up to 50% more calls on Black Friday, than they do on a normal Friday. Although many would be quick to blame the extra large and hearty Thanksgiving meal, the number one reason for calls is clogged kitchen sink drains. ​

Answer: FACT

Yes, Black Friday is in fact the busiest day of the year for american plumbers. As many people prepare and clean up after a big Thanksgiving meal, large scraps of leftover food and grease might end up in the kitchen sink drain, causing it to become clogged.

Myth 4: The Philadelphia Police named the day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday”, because of the chaotic crowds and horrible traffic jams the city experienced every year.

In the 1950’s, the Police of Philadelphia used to call the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving Black Friday and Black Saturday, as hordes of people stormed the city because of the Army-Navy football game held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year.

The Philadelphia police were not allowed to take the day off, and would have to work extra long shifts in order to cope with the crowded chaos. In addition, shoplifters would take advantage of the chaotic situation, adding to the stress of the Philadelphia Police department.

Answer: FACT

It is true, the name “Black Friday” originates from the Philadelphia Police department, as they used the term to describe the horrible traffic jams and mayhem the city would experience on this day every year. It has a very negative connotation, as a black day of the week usually means something bad happened that day. For instance, October 24, 1929, which is the beginning of The Great Depression, is known as Black Thursday.

Retailers tried to rename “Black Friday” to “Big Friday”, although these efforts failed. This is why the “in the red” story was created in order to spin the name “Black Friday” into something positive.

Myth 5: Black Friday was spread to Norway through a naked stunt

In 2010, the shopping mall Norwegian Outlet introduced Norwegians to Black Friday through a naked stunt. To attract the most attention, the shopping mall hosted a fashion event with 8 “naked” models. Four women and four men wearing skin-coloured underwear walked a catwalk in order to promote Norwegian Outlet’s Black Friday sale.

Answer: FACT

Black Friday was in fact spread to Norway through a naked stunt. Norwegian Outlet’s stunt got a lot of media attention, and although some people frown of the “americanisation” of Norway, Black Friday continues to grow in popularity each year.

Why is Black Friday ‘Black’?

Unlike in the case of Black Friday, the word ‘black’ before any day is used to describe a highly unpleasant or turbulent event in history.

Black Monday refers to Monday, October 19, 1987. What started as a stock market crash in Hong Kong, then spread to Europe and hit the US.

Black Tuesday happened on October 29, 1929, during the first days of the Wall Street Crash. Due to panic, selling reached its peak: About 16 million shares were traded that date, an unbreakable record for the next 40 years.

Black Wednesday took place on September 16, 1992. It was when a collapse in the pound sterling forced Britain to withdraw from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

Black Thursday, October 24, 1929, marked the beginning of The Great Depression. It started when the market lost 11 percent of its value, and the rest is history.

Black Friday, September 24, 1869. 1869. On that day, Jay Gould a railroad developer (and a speculator), and James Fisk, a stockbroker (and a speculator, too) created a boom-and-bust in gold prices. Prices fell 20 percent, and the stock market crashed. As a result, commodity prices dropped by 50 percent.

Black Saturday happened on 7 February 2009 in Australia. A series of bushfires that ignited or were burning across the Australian state of Victoria and up to this day it’s Australia’s all-time worst bushfire disaster.

Black Sunday, well, Black Sabbath.

‘Black Friday’ Meant Something Bad for a Long Time

The original Black Friday in 1896 with the stock market scandal was losing its relevance year by year. So the term ‘Black Friday’ didn’t really mean much as time went by.

About 100 years later though, the term was resurrected to describe a different situation. For the first time in our Black Friday history, the term was linked to the post-Thanksgiving period. The city of Philadelphia was responsible for this change.

The streets of the city, like the street of any major US city during this booming period, were transforming into human rivers. Shoppers and visitors flooded the streets the day after Thanksgiving. But Philly had one more thing going on: The Army/Navy football game.

Pennsylvania Railroad after the game / Source: Τhe American college football rivalry game was happening on the Saturday of the same weekend. The gathering of so many people was good news for business owners but dad news for another profession: police officers. Unlike most other people during those festive days, many officers not only couldn’t take the day off – they also had to work overtime to control all this carnage. Therefore, police officers used the term Black Friday and Black Saturday to describe their living hell to describe the post-thanksgiving days.

Source: BBC After the police officers linked Black Friday to the chaos in Philadelphia, the shopping craze became more widespread every year with shops attracting huge crowds.

Shopkeepers and merchants of Philadelphia attempted to change the name the days following Thanksgiving and rebranded them as “Big Friday” and “Big Saturday”, which indeed have a more sales-friendly tone.

However, the term Big Friday never really took off. and Black Friday still had a negative connotation.

When ‘Black Friday’

It was not until the 1980’s that the term ‘Black Friday’ was used to describe a fortunate event, which was the turning point in Black Friday history.

Back when things were less digital, bookkeeping and every other financial recording were happening on a piece of paper rather than a PC screen. The negative amounts were shown with a red wink while the positive amounts with black ink.

Traditionally, many retailers operated at a financial loss for most of the year – January through November. They only began to make a profit at the beginning of the holiday season, which is the day after Thanksgiving. This was when they would no longer be “in the red”; they would put the red pen in the drawer and pull out the black pen. It was profit time, marked with black – “in the black”.

In the coming years of Black Friday history, the term gained popularity. As the hype around Black Friday grew, so did the crowds.

Up to the early 2000s, back when the big 5 tech companies weren’t that big (and growth hacking agencies didn’t even exist) the biggest shopping day of the year was the Saturday before Christmas, aka Super Saturday.

But in the early 2000s, Black Friday took the throne of Super Saturday and became the frenzy we know today.

Black Friday History Today – Statistics

It’s time for some numbers – because you like numbers.

In 2017, U.S. retailers made a record $7.9 billion in online sales on Black Friday and Thanksgiving, up 17.9 percent from 2016, according to Reuters.

Online retail has grown 300 percent between 2000 and 2018, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. During the same period, department store sales have dropped almost 50 percent.

People prefer shopping digitally, so it comes as no surprise that they also do that on a day when shopping from a physical store is like shopping from Hell.

So how much is the actual foot traffic increase on Black Friday from a typical November day? 65%, says the statistics of

According to the same source:

189.6 million people shopped over the four-day Black Friday weekend in 2019 In-store traffic doesn’t really peak early in the morning, but rather at 4 pm The percentage of Black Friday searches that take place before the stores open is 59% The percentage of US internet users that would shop digitally at the Thanksgiving table to “Get an amazing deal” is 51% Also, Black Friday is responsible for 12 deaths and 117 injuries, according to the Black Friday Death Count.

Advice for Black Friday Shopping

Whether you are ready for some serious door-busting or you intend to click your way through shopping, consider this for this year’s Black Friday:

Do your research — Do your research beforehand and don’t go for choices on the spot. Be prepared to shop around to get the best price.

Set a budget — Have a particular number in mind you are willing to spend. It can be easy to get carried away if you don’t set a spending limit for yourself, especially with online shopping, where one click can mean one purchase.

Long-term buying — Shopping on Black Friday could save you from last-minute shopping before Xmas. Most of the time, a need for a present will come to the surface just before Xmas. Black Friday shopping can mean more free time during Xmas.

Sign up for email newsletters —Make sure your email is on the lists of brands and shops you are interested in. Most sellers send a Black Friday exclusive email that can give you a heads-up on the deals in advance. Remember, email marketing is not dead.

Know your rights — Goods should be of satisfactory quality, fit to do the job intended and be as described. For more about the matter, you can visit the Federal Trade Commission if you live in the US or the European Consumer Organisation if you are a citizen of the EU.