The Evolution and History of Black Friday: An Essential Guide to the Holiday Sales Phenomenon

by Michael Nguyen
Black Friday Evolution

As the deluge of promotional emails in your inbox might suggest, the holiday shopping period is now underway, and Black Friday is rapidly approaching.

Though Black Friday has evolved from the chaotic, crowded in-store events of past decades, primarily due to an increased focus on online shopping—a shift hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic—it continues to be a major draw for consumers. The National Retail Federation estimates that about 182 million shoppers will participate in-store and online over the Thanksgiving weekend, with Black Friday alone accounting for 130.7 million of these shoppers.

However, consumers’ concerns about inflation, albeit reduced from last year, remain a significant factor that might result in more restrained spending. The elongation of Black Friday deals and the growing prominence of other shopping days like Cyber Monday are also reshaping holiday expenditure patterns.

Here’s a detailed look at Black Friday’s origins and its current state in 2023.

Black Friday 2023: Date and Background

Black Friday is observed on the Friday following Thanksgiving. In 2023, this falls on November 24.

The term “Black Friday” has been around for generations, initially not linked to post-Thanksgiving shopping. It was once used to describe the financial crisis caused by the gold market crash in September 1869.

Its association with post-Thanksgiving shopping dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-20th century, when the city was overrun by large crowds during the annual Army-Navy football game and seasonal sales. According to a 1975 account by a Gimbels department store manager, the term was used by local bus and cab drivers, overwhelmed by the congestion.

The earliest reference to “Black Friday” in the context of shopping can be traced back to a New York trade publication in 1951, which mentioned workers taking sick leave the day after Thanksgiving to extend their holiday weekend.

From the 1980s, retailers began to assert that Black Friday marked the point where they started turning a profit, or moving from ‘the red’ into ‘the black.’ However, this interpretation is debated since many retailers achieve profitability at various times throughout the year.

The Transformation of Black Friday

Originally, Black Friday was notorious for overcrowded stores and long queues of eager shoppers waiting for deep discounts. However, the advent of online shopping, further propelled by the pandemic, has eased the process, allowing most holiday shopping to be done from home.

In 2003, e-commerce represented a mere 1.7% of total retail sales in Q4, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. By contrast, the 2022 holiday season saw e-commerce make up about 16.3% of all retail sales.

Significantly, the cost of high-demand products like TVs has decreased over the years, reducing the allure of in-store Black Friday discounts. Two decades ago, a flatscreen TV might have cost several thousand dollars, making a Black Friday discount substantial. Now, similar items can be found for far less, diminishing the savings’ impact.

The Expansion of Black Friday and Emergence of Cyber Monday

Black Friday sales now extend far beyond a single day, with promotions starting as early as before Halloween. This expansion is partly due to competitive pressures among retailers and the need to manage shipping logistics, particularly since the onset of the pandemic.

Cyber Monday, first officially recognized in 2005 by the National Retail Federation, has become a significant event in the e-commerce era. In 2022, a record $11.3 billion was spent on Cyber Monday, making it the largest online shopping day of the year.

While Black Friday remains an important sales event, both online and in-store, it’s undergoing a gradual transformation. The social aspect and immediate satisfaction of in-store shopping continue to appeal to many, ensuring the persistence of Black Friday as a retail tradition, albeit in a modified form.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Black Friday Evolution

What is the significance of Black Friday in 2023?

Black Friday in 2023 continues to be a significant shopping event, marked by a blend of in-store and online sales. The day, falling on November 24, 2023, is expected to draw millions of shoppers, despite evolving consumer habits and the impact of inflation concerns.

How has Black Friday evolved over the years?

Originally a chaotic, in-person shopping day, Black Friday has evolved with the rise of online shopping. This shift was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a significant increase in e-commerce sales and a change in traditional Black Friday shopping practices.

What are the origins of the term “Black Friday”?

The term “Black Friday” dates back to the mid-20th century in Philadelphia, where it described the heavy traffic and shopping chaos following Thanksgiving. Earlier, it was associated with the financial crisis of the gold market crash in 1869.

How significant is online shopping during Black Friday?

Online shopping has become increasingly significant during Black Friday, with a notable rise in e-commerce sales. This shift allows consumers to make most holiday purchases from home, a trend that has grown since the early 2000s.

What is the impact of Cyber Monday on holiday shopping?

Cyber Monday, emerging officially in 2005, has become a major part of the holiday shopping season, particularly in the e-commerce space. In 2022, Cyber Monday set records with consumers spending billions online, indicating its growing influence alongside Black Friday.

More about Black Friday Evolution

  • History of Black Friday
  • Evolution of Holiday Shopping
  • Black Friday 2023: Trends and Predictions
  • The Rise of Online Shopping
  • Cyber Monday’s Growing Impact

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JohnSmiht November 24, 2023 - 3:59 pm

Great article, but I think you could’ve talked more about how online shopping is affecting small businesses?? feels like a big part of the story’s missing.

MarkusR November 24, 2023 - 11:01 pm

is it just me or are these black friday deals not as good as they used to be. seems like prices are up even with the discounts.

Sally-Anne November 25, 2023 - 5:56 am

love how you explained the history of black friday, never knew it was about traffic jams in Philly, always thought it was just a shopping thing!

Ellie_G November 25, 2023 - 7:06 am

interesting read! but, could use a bit more on how covid-19 changed consumer habits, feels like that’s a major turning point for retail.


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