Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Brief History of Black Friday

Huge population centers around Lake Ontario in Canada have always attracted cross border shopping into the United States, and as Black Friday became more popular in the U.S., Canadians often flocked to the U.S. because of their cheaper prices and a stronger Canadian dollar.  After 2001, many were traveling for the deals across the border.  In 2009 several major Canadian retailers had their own version of the day by running promotions to discourage shoppers from leaving for the U.S.  Canada's Boxing Day is comparable to Black Friday in terms of retailer impact and consumerism, but Black Fridays in the U.S. seem to provide deeper or more extreme price cuts than Canadian retailers, even for the same international retailer.

More recently, Black Friday has been exported to nations outside of North America such the United Kingdom by major online retailers like Amazon or Apple.  In 2011, IBM reported online Black Friday sales were up 24.3% according to a study that included 500 retailers.

Origin of the term
Black Friday as a term has been used in many contexts dating back to the nineteenth century where in 1869 it was associated with a financial crisis in the United States.  The earliest known reference to "Black Friday" as a shopping day the day after Thanksgiving was made in a public relations newsletter from 1961 that is clear on the negative implications of the name and its origin in Philadelphia.

For downtown merchants throughout the nation, the biggest shopping days are normally the days immediately following Thanksgiving Day.  This resulted in traffic jams that became an irksome problem to police, and in Philadelphia it became customary for police officers to refer to the post-Thanksgiving days as Black Friday and Black Saturday.  This was hardly a stimulus for good business.  The problem was discussed by the merchants with their Deputy City Representative, Abe S. Rosen, one of the country's most experienced municipal PR executives.  He recommended adopting a positive approach that would change the names from Black Friday and Black Saturday to Big Friday and Big Saturday.

The attempt to rename Black Friday was unsuccessful, and its continued use is shown in a 1966 publication on the day's significance in Philadelphia:

JANUARY 1966 – "Black Friday" is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day.  It is not a term of endearment to them.  "Black Friday" officially opens the Christmas shopping season in the city center, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

The term Black Friday began to get wider exposure around 1975, as shown by two newspaper articles from November 29, 1975, both datelined Philadelphia.  The first reference is in an article entitled "Army vs. Navy: A Dimming Splendor," in The New York Times.