For Brits, Black Friday is a curious shopping event that seemingly cropped up out of nowhere. Not that anyone is complaining. It arrives on the last week of November and is conveniently placed to allow consumers to bag some incredible bargains before Christmas.
Black Friday is dreaded by retail staff who have to deal with higher than usual traffic to their stores but adored by online retailers who can guarantee a boost in sales by simply adding a site-wide discount code. Whatever your feelings about Black Friday sales, here’s a little history of the holiday that explains how we got to where we are today.
Origins of Black Friday
The term Black Friday was first used in 1961 to describe the chaos caused by pedestrians and cars in Philadelphia. Some also say that the phrase is related to the first day of the year when retailers become profitable. Meaning, rather than being in the red, retailers boost their sales and are then in the black. The day after Thanksgiving, although not an official holiday, was used by retailers as a way to launch the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Retailers would open early in the morning to allow customers the chance to snap up incredible deals on highly coveted items.
In the beginning, the sales were limited to just one day, which prompted many retailers to open earlier and earlier on the day after Thanksgiving as a way to meet demand. In the late 2000s, some retailers started opening at 5 am or 4 am for the first time. In 2011, Target and other stores announced they would be opening at midnight on Thanksgiving to beat other retailers. The following year, Walmart announced they would be opening at 8 pm on Thanksgiving Day and prompted calls for a walkout among staff. Stores will now regularly open their doors as early as 4 pm on Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday in the UK
In the UK, Black Friday typically refers to the last Friday before Christmas when the emergency services have it particularly tough, but the term has also been adopted for the retail event.
With the rise of the internet and e-commerce, companies like Amazon with international audiences started to offer the same Black Friday deals to their customers across the pond. After all, with international shipping available, there wasn’t much stopping UK shoppers from taking advantage of the deals. ASDA was the first big retailer to offer a Black Friday shopping event in the UK in 2013. By 2014, most retailers were on board.
In the beginning, retailers offered incredible discounts for one day only but soon discovered that extending these sales didn’t diminish the interest, it simply amped up demand. Online retailers would not only offer Black Friday deals but extend this through the weekend and end with Cyber Monday. As a result of what is known as the Christmas Creep – where retailers stretch their sales right up to Christmas, rather than focus on one day – the deals are usually a lot more reasonable, with savings of 20-30% rather than 60-70%.