The History of Black Friday
Guest Post from Thomas Stone
Black Friday is probably the most important day for retail in America. For anyone reading this in Turkey who doesn’t know, Black Friday is the first day after Thanksgiving and therefore the first “official” day of Christmas shopping. Retailers pull buyers into their stores to enjoy extreme discounts designed to clear stock out for the New Year and to generate profit for retailers who often spend months in the red. Yes, Black Friday is designed to bring companies back “in the black,” hence the name.
The name originated in 1960s Philadelphia, but has spread throughout the nation to describe the consumer insanity that takes place the day after Thanksgiving. It may be a crazy day to leave the house, but its importance to our economy -- and to a lesser extent our culture -- is undeniable.
One of the most incredible things about Black Friday is the rapidity with which both buyers and retailers took to it. For retailers, everything is fair game: you can find deals from baby wipes to Whirlpool refrigerators to tractor oil. If you want it, and it has been too expensive, chances are you can find it at a deep discount. For buyers, the story is a bit different. I once saw two men bludgeon each other over the last Nintendo 64 in a Walmart.
Black Friday offers the thrill and danger that many Americans are devoid of in their everyday lives and can be fulfilled by spending long hours in retail establishments fighting for deals tooth and nail. The fervor of Black Friday shopping has gotten to an unbearable point for many Americans, and so to cater to those who would rather find deals online, digital retail companies invented Cyber Monday, a marketing term designed to entice shoppers to shop online.
Cyber Monday and Free Shipping Day indicate a flight from physical retail to the digital space. Online shopping has risen considerably in the last decade, especially around the holidays. Retailers have to worry less about stocking shelves; consumers don’t have to worry about catching a swing from an irate soccer mom over the last easy bake oven; and they can avoid general misery of driving around a city looking for the lowest price for an item. This has made the weekend much more manageable for stores and consumers.
As we move to a more Internet-based society, it may be hard for physical retailers to pull in the number of customers they need to hit the black on their accounting sheets. Signs of that can be seen in the slow creep of the start time of Black Friday, from midnight doorbusters, to 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. This year, many merchants will now remain open all of Thanksgiving. This may or may not be sustainable. There has been pushback with regard to employees being forced to work on Thanksgiving and, if that continues, we'll likely see an even greater portion of shopping done online.
Online retailers use free shipping as a marketing strategy to lower their prices and facilitate the flourishing of big brands previously tied to physical locations.
In fact, in a bizarre twist, eBay has brought their online-only model to life, and set up physical storefronts in the United Kingdom. The goal is to attract consumers while they shop brick-and-mortar sstores and provide them with various Internet-connected devices with which they could make online purchases at a physical location.
Commerce is advancing. New trends, habits and distribution streams are being developed all around us. Black Friday may remain similar in name to the shopping event of the past, but as we begin to doff the trappings of physical locations, develop new NFC technology, and sharpen our acumen for online deal hunting, Black Friday will morph and change with society.
Thomas Stone is a writer and SEO specialist focusing on e-commerce. He writes for Sears and other prestigious brands.
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