What is the origin of Black Friday and why is it celebrated in November?
(CNN Business) — Chances are you or someone you know is ready to shop on Black Friday.
The unofficial start of the holiday season has become a day for retailers to help attract shoppers to their stores. It’s almost a tradition in America, but despite popular belief, the name has nothing to do with red or black ink on a merchant’s balance sheet.
Black Friday began in Philadelphia in the 1950s.
According to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina, dozens of suburban shoppers came to town in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Ahead of the football game between Army and Navy on Saturday, the city was thrown into big sales and decorations.
“It’s a double whammy” Taylor-Blake told CNN. “Traffic cops had to work 12-hour shifts, no one could leave, and people flooded the sidewalks, parking lots and streets. The police had to deal with all that and coined the term.
The city’s merchants also started using the term to describe the long queues and shopping chaos at their stores. “This is a humorous reference to downtown Philadelphia after Thanksgiving.”
In 1961, the idea was proposed to change the name of the holiday to “Big Friday” so that one of the biggest days in shopping would not have a negative connotation. But it was not successful.
Over time, retailers learned to embrace the name and extended the one-day shopping event.
In 2003, retailers increased store opening hours. That year, Kmart, Walmart and Sears offered pre-dawn discounts starting at 5 or 6 a.m. That same year, Black Friday became the most profitable shopping day of the year, according to data from the International Council of Malls. Prior to 2003, the most profitable shopping days in the U.S. were late December.
In 2011, Walmart extended its business hours again, opening its stores at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and staying open until Black Friday.
With the popularity of the Internet, another shopping day was born in 2005: Cyber Monday. It’s a marketing term from the National Retail Federation to reflect the shopping frenzy that brick-and-mortar stores feel on Black Friday. Cyber Monday exploded in popularity.
Shoppers said deals and discounts were the most important factor in store selection, followed by free shipping and convenient location.
Kathryn Vassal contributed to this story. Originally published in November 2018 and updated in November 2023.