Black Friday is almost here. What to know about the holiday sales event’s history and evolution

by Joshua Brown
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Black Friday Evolution

Black Friday, the annual shopping extravaganza, is rapidly approaching. As you’ve likely noticed from the inundation of sales advertisements in your email inbox, the holiday shopping season is upon us, with Black Friday looming on the horizon.

The Black Friday of today bears little resemblance to the chaotic, in-person shopping frenzy of decades past. This transformation is largely attributed to the increasing reliance on online shopping, a trend that was expedited by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, this holiday sales event is still expected to draw in millions of consumers.

The National Retail Federation anticipates that approximately 182 million individuals will engage in both in-store and online shopping during the five-day Thanksgiving weekend. Of these shoppers, a significant portion—130.7 million—plan to partake in the Black Friday sales.

However, economists note that concerns about inflation, though diminished from the previous year, still linger in the minds of consumers. This could potentially lead to more restrained spending during this holiday season. Additionally, the extension of Black Friday sales and the growing prominence of other shopping events, such as Cyber Monday, are reshaping the landscape of holiday spending.

Now, let’s delve into the history and current status of Black Friday in 2023.

When is Black Friday in 2023?
Black Friday consistently falls on the Friday following Thanksgiving each year. In 2023, you can mark your calendar for November 24th.

How Old is Black Friday, and Where Does Its Name Originate?
The term “Black Friday” has a lengthy history, but it wasn’t always associated with the retail frenzy we recognize today. Notably, the gold market crash of September 1869 was referred to as Black Friday. However, its connection to post-Thanksgiving shopping can be traced back to mid-20th century Philadelphia, where it was coined due to the massive crowds that gathered before the annual Army-Navy football game and to take advantage of seasonal sales. Earlier references to this usage date back to the 1950s and 1960s.

Jie Zhang, a marketing professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, points to a 1951 mention of “Black Friday” in a New York-based trade publication. This publication noted that many workers called in sick on the day after Thanksgiving, hoping to enjoy an extended holiday weekend.

From the 1980s onward, retailers across the nation began to claim that Black Friday symbolized the transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to turning a profit (in the black) due to increased sales. However, experts caution that many retailers operate profitably at various times throughout the year, casting some doubt on this interpretation.

How Has Black Friday Evolved?
In recent decades, Black Friday gained notoriety for the hordes of people flooding stores and enduring midnight queues in pursuit of significant discounts. However, the rise of online shopping has made it possible to complete most, if not all, holiday shopping from the comfort of one’s home—a trend that was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. While malls and physical stores have experienced a resurgence in foot traffic since the start of the pandemic, the dominance of e-commerce continues to grow.

About two decades ago, big-ticket items that historically drew throngs of in-person shoppers, like flat-screen TVs, were considerably more expensive than they are today. For instance, a new flatscreen TV would often cost several thousand dollars 20 years ago, making a 15% or 20% Black Friday discount a substantial saving. Today, consumers can find a comparable 32-inch TV for as low as $80, rendering the prospect of standing in line at midnight for a $16 discount less enticing.

Furthermore, Black Friday’s duration has extended beyond a mere 24 hours. Retailers now offer Black Friday-like sales even before Halloween, a phenomenon that has been occurring for about a decade. This expansion results from increased competition among retailers and the need to alleviate pressure on shipping logistics, which was particularly strained at the outset of the pandemic.

In addition to deals bearing the Black Friday moniker, post-Thanksgiving holiday shopping now includes multiple events such as Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday, in particular, has soared in popularity during the e-commerce era. In 2022, consumers spent a staggering $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday, marking it as the largest online shopping event of the year. However, while Black Friday continues to thrive online, it doesn’t match the e-commerce numbers seen on Cyber Monday. Nonetheless, in-person Black Friday shopping remains relevant due to the social appeal and enjoyment that consumers derive from shopping in stores, particularly on a Friday.

In conclusion, while Black Friday may have evolved and extended its reach, it remains a significant and enduring event in the world of holiday shopping. Its history is rich, and its transformation into a primarily online and month-long affair reflects the changing landscape of retail in the digital age.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Black Friday Evolution

What is the significance of Black Friday in 2023?

Black Friday in 2023 remains a crucial event in the holiday shopping season, attracting millions of consumers. Despite the shift to online shopping, it’s expected to lead the Thanksgiving weekend shopping frenzy.

When does Black Friday occur in 2023?

Black Friday falls on November 24, 2023, the day after Thanksgiving, as it does each year.

How did Black Friday get its name, and what is its historical background?

The term “Black Friday” has a varied history, initially associated with the gold market crash of 1869. Its connection to post-Thanksgiving shopping dates back to mid-20th century Philadelphia, where it referred to the crowds before the annual Army-Navy game. Early references to this usage can be found in the 1950s and 1960s.

How has Black Friday evolved over the years?

Black Friday has evolved from in-person shopping mayhem to a more extended and online-oriented event. The rise of e-commerce, accelerated by COVID-19, has reshaped the landscape, making it possible to do most holiday shopping online. Additionally, Black Friday sales now start earlier, and the event is part of a broader holiday shopping season that includes Cyber Monday and other promotions.

What are the key trends affecting Black Friday in 2023?

In 2023, concerns about inflation may lead to somewhat modest spending during the holiday season. The growing prominence of e-commerce and the availability of significant discounts on big-ticket items have also altered the shopping dynamics of Black Friday. The event has extended beyond 24 hours, with retailers offering deals well before Halloween.

Will Black Friday ever disappear?

While the importance of Black Friday is gradually diminishing, it’s not expected to vanish entirely. In-person shopping on Black Friday still holds social appeal for many consumers, and it remains a notable retail event, albeit with a changing format.

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