The Black Friday Phenomenon

We wake up today to the UK’s most highly anticipated ‘Black Friday’ to date. Shoppers are expected to spend at least £10.1 billion in the present week alone. That’s enough to buy every man, woman and child in the UK, their own Play Station 4. Discounts have started incredibly early this year with discount codes and gifts with purchases being offered as early as Monday, this week. As the biggest and best shopping incentives continue to flood the nation, we look into the history of the retail phenomenon and its origin story.

The first documented use of the concept ‘Black Friday’ had no correlation with the retail shopping event whatsoever. Instead, it was used to describe the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24th, 1869. Two Wall Street traders, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to drive the price of gold to extreme highs only to sell it off for unbelievable profits. This sent the entire stock market into turmoil and on that Friday in September, the conspiracy unravelled, resulting in ‘Black Friday’.



Shoppers eagerly waiting for Macy's to open thier Christmas sales  - 1948

However, the originally American concept, which falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving every year, marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In terms of the worldwide shopping spree, the origin of the term ‘Black Friday’ has become widely obscured like a game of Chinese whispers. During this time, fanciful explanations for the source of the term have been told amongst the masses. The most popular and commonly known story behind the post-Thanksgiving shopping affair relates the tradition to the retail industry. Apparently, after an entire year of businesses operating a loss (also known as being ‘in the red’) stores would supposedly start to earn a profit (being ‘in the black’) on the day after Thanksgiving due to holiday shoppers spending increasing amounts on gifting for Christmas. The truth behind this fairytale goes about as far as accountants recording losses in red and profits in black and instead used as a scapegoat to the true origin.

The true story of Black Friday actually originates in the East coast of the U.S; Philadelphia. In the 1950’s companies found that an abundance of workers would call in sick on the Friday after Thanksgiving, to take advantage of a four day weekend. Since stores were still open, those that were playing the sick card could get a head start on their holiday shopping. Rather than trying to determine who was ‘faking’ and who was genuinely ill, many business started adding the day as a paid holiday. Once this became widespread, people began to plan their four day weekend with retailers competitively trying to attract the most business. In Philadelphia, however, this meant hoards of suburban shoppers came to the city on the Friday, in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on the Saturday. The term ‘Black Friday’ was used by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe the chaos and crowding in and around the city on the Friday before the big game. By the 1960’s the term ‘Black Friday’ had caught on to such an extent that businesses and merchants tried to rename the day to ‘Big Friday’ in order to remove the negative possible meanings. Unsuccessfully, the term didn’t spread; however in the 1980’s retailers reinvented Black Friday as the ‘red to black’ concept that was previously explained. Since then the concept has become a worldwide phenomenon and has morphed into a four day bonanza including the Small Business Saturday and with the emergence of the ecommerce, Cyber Monday.

The popularity of the shopping spree in the UK has increasingly grown for many years now. The term actually originated within the police and NHS decades ago, in a complete coincidence to describe the chaos of the Friday before Christmas; a day when emergency services were activated and safety awareness was at its highest. Since the 21st century, however, the term has been revitalised in an attempt by retailers to emulate the retail ‘Black Friday’ held in the U.S. In 2013, ASDA, the subsidiary to the American powerhouse Walmart, announced its campaign, ‘Walmart’s Black Friday by ASDA’. This kick-started the popular event in the UK and the following year saw the likes of very.co.uk, John Lewis, Argos and more all offer discounted products to entice the Christmas shoppers. The trend is catching on year on year; from 2015 to 2016, Black Friday sales on retail sites grew by 12.2% (£1.1bn to £1.23bn respectively).

Now, it seems any retailer that doesn’t follow the fashion will simply suffer during the Christmas period. The trend has become a worldwide phenomenon with the likes of Romania, France, Germany, Norway, South Africa and even India adopting the consumer craze. Will you be taking advantage of all the incentives across the course of the weekend? Or will you wait for Cyber Monday and do it all from your laptop? Or both... like us.

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