Black Friday will be a date clearly marked in many diaries, whether paper or digital. Following on from Thanksgiving the day before, Black Friday is a time to let your hair down and go in search of some serious bargains. Who does not like a bargain after all? Black Friday has become an unofficial countdown to Christmas, kicking the festive shopping season off with a host of events and deals designed to lure even the most careful shopper to part with their hard earned cash. It has become a huge shopping day which has spread to other parts of the world where American owned companies such as Amazon and Walmart have introduced the idea.

Although Black Friday may feel like it has been around for ages, the term in its current meaning is only quite recent. Regardless of your thoughts on a day so dedicated to shopping, it is hard not to admire the marketing behind it all. Similar to the stock market crash of 1987 being known as Black Monday, the term Black Friday was not originally designed around a fun family day out at the shops. There are a couple of stories touted behind its original meaning going back as far as 1869, a time when they could not have foreseen the dedication to the art of shopping Black Friday brings about, and certainly not the additional days spawned from it such as Cyber Monday, allowing all the online retailers a chance to get in on the fun too.


Let’s Head Back to 1869

Way back in 1869, the term Black Friday did not have anything to do with shopping, but was used to describe an event brought about by gold speculators headed up by James Fisk and Jay Gould. These two saw a chance of making some serious bucks in the wake of the reconstruction of the US economy following the Civil War. Their target was gold, still the international trading currency for much of the world. Their master plan was to buy up as much of the gold stock as possible and corner the market, driving prices up in order for them to sell at ridiculous levels of profit.

Their conspiracy was eventually recognised and the Treasury was ordered to open its vaults and flood the market with gold. Not only did gold prices plummet, but stock prices dropped by 20% too. Fisk and Gould’s greed for quick riches was to cost many companies their livelihood and many financial speculators were ruined. The day the prices plunged was a Friday and this was the day of the first recorded use of the term Black Friday.


On to Philadelphia in the 50’s

Of course the saga of Fisk and Gould and their get rich quick scheme has nothing to do with retail and our notion of Black Friday today. So we need to shoot forward almost a century, until we land in Philadelphia in the 1950’s and the traffic woes the local police force had to contend with each Friday following Thanksgiving. It was the day marking the start of the Christmas season, when Santa made his first, and seemingly very early, appearance in the stores. Of course the kids wanted to be there for this and it would be harsh for the parents to say no, especially as the schools were closed.

The resulting pedestrian and car traffic in downtown Philadelphia was chaotic, resulting in accidents and in some cases violence. It became a day the folk who made up the traffic police of the city centre no doubt came to loathe, not just for the added aggravation they had to deal with, but also because on this day, all leave was suspended. It was all hands to the pump, with even the police band ordered to the city centre to assist. According to the locals of the time the term Black Friday emanated from the city’s Police traffic department to describe all the traffic jams and overcrowded stores on this one particular day. As you can probably tell, Black Friday was still not a term of endearment for its users.


Time For A More Positive Image

Understandably, the retailers of Philadelphia and beyond were not massively happy for this huge shopping day to be associated with such a negative term as Black Friday. They really wanted something a bit fluffier, a bit more customer-friendly. They tried to get the word out and market the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Big Friday” – but sadly nobody was having it and Black Friday stuck. There needed to be a plan B. If Black Friday was to be the permanent name associated with the day, then Black Friday needed to become something to look forward to, something to enjoy and not dread. The marketing guys needed to get their thinking hats on.

The idea which has now become one of the more accepted reasons for the term Black Friday is not actually exciting, unless you are an accounting enthusiast. The way to put a positive spin on Black Friday was to highlight just how important a day it was to retailers, and by connection how important the shoppers are to its continued success. For most of the year the stores struggle by, making a loss overall. However along comes Black Friday, the most valuable shopping day of the year, the one that signals Christmas season has begun and the myth is born. Black Friday is now a good thing. It saves the stores as the huge sales on this single day alone helps turn a loss into profit.

Retailers used to record losses in their books in red, and profit as black. So now they had a day when their losses were overturned and their books went from red to black. It is a bit of a sharp turn in direction to why the Philadelphia Police department called their woes on this particular day Black Friday, but you have to admit it is quite a clever case of making the shoe fit. Now the connotations of Black Friday are positive, and the darker parts of the terms history can be conveniently swept under the carpet.


Not Always a Pleasant Day Still

While most people, who head out looking for discounted merchandise on Black Friday, do so peacefully and in good spirits, sadly this can not be said for everyone. In the desire to snap up a bargain before it is gone, tempers can get heated and ridiculously flare up to aggression and worse. It is reported that between 2006 and 2014, there have been 7 deaths and 98 injuries attributed to shopping on Black Friday in the US. Add to this the threats to fellow customers and staff who stand in the way of an item on sale, it is not surprising stores need added security for the day. Such behaviour could become the new meaning behind the term Black Friday if not stopped.

However in 2017, it is estimated Black Friday sales topped $5 billion, so the importance of the day can not be underestimated. The term may not now mean what it originally did, but the post Thanksgiving shopping spree shows no signs of halting soon. With online shopping being a fairly recent addition to the scene, it is now even easier to find and buy discounted products on the day, plus you get your own day too – the Cyber Monday, in recognition of the increasing importance of the online shopper. Whichever way you choose to shop on Black Friday: make it fun, make it a family day, stay humble. If anybody needs a product you want so badly their eyes start to glaze over and their nostrils flare, let them have it. The thing about Black Friday is there are plenty of stores and plenty of bargains to go round.

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