A Brief History of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

November 22, 2015 Max Bergen

black_friday.jpgAs I see it, the world is made up of two kinds of people. Those who shop on Black Friday and those who stay home. I’m in the later camp. I want nothing to do with large crowds of bargain hunters. I’ll stay home and eat my turkey sandwich by the fire, thank you very much. Cyber Monday, on the other hand, does have some appeal. Even though you won’t find me at Best Buy on the 27th, I do think that the history of these quasi-holidays is interesting. Here’s how it all got started.

Black Friday

Ever since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade started in 1924, the day after Thanksgiving has been considered the unofficial start to the critical holiday shopping season for retailers. The first recorded use of the words “Black Friday” were in an ad purchased by a dealer in rare stamps. He said, “Black Friday is the name that the Philadelphia Police Department gave to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment for them. 'Black Friday' officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing." Apparently, crowd control was an issue way back in 1966.

Retail public relations professionals looking for a way to spin a “Black” day into a positive were in luck. Back when accounting records were kept on ledgers and updated by hand, red ink was used to indicate a loss and black ink signaled a profit. Conventional wisdom had it that the holiday shopping season was when most retailers moved out of the “red” and into the “black.” With just a bit of spin, Black Friday became a good thing. Stores began opening very early, staying open very late and offering deep discounts to lure in shoppers. (Incidentally, it was not the first day to be known as Black Friday. September 24, 1869 also known as Black Friday, was a financial panic caused by two speculators’ efforts to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange.)

The approach was so successful for some retailers that they began opening on Thanksgiving Day to try to get a jump on the competition. Recently, there has been some backlash against this practice, causing some retailers to use staying closed on Thanksgiving as a way to tout their willingness to sacrifice potential profit so that employees can stay home with their families. This year, REI extended that idea to Black Friday, encouraging employees to go for a hike instead of coming to work.

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is a more recent addition to the holiday shopping lexicon. The term “Cyber-Monday” was first used by the National Retail Federation a press release issued by “Shop.org” in a November 2005. The Press Release, “Cyber Monday Quickly Becoming One of the Biggest Online Shopping Days of the Year,” quoted research done by Shop.org that noted, “77% of online retailers said that their sales increased substantially on the Monday after Thanksgiving, a trend that is driving serious online discounts and promotions on Cyber Monday this year (2005)”.

Discounted shopping from home in my PJs? That’s something I can get into. Whether you’ll be out in the crowd enjoying the action this Friday or staying home to enjoy the last piece of pumpkin pie, we wish you a safe and happy holiday!

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