Is Black Friday Still A Thing?

Publication editor breaks down history about Black Friday and Cyber Monday

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Isaac Hudson, Publication Editor

Every year, the very next day after we stuff ourselves full of food, namely turkey and pumpkin pie, we brave the masses to get the best deals in every store in the country. 

Black Friday is often the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States, but where did it start? For centuries, we used the word “black” as an adjective applied to days on which great tragedies happened. 

“Black Friday” was first used on the day after Thanksgiving in 1951 and 1952, in reference to workers commonly calling in sick on the Friday after the holiday. However, this use didn’t really catch on. The phrase as we know it today was first used in The New York Times on Nov. 29, 1975, calling it “the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year” in Philadelphia. Even though it became more widespread, by 1985 The Philadelphia Inquirer said that stores in Cincinnati and Los Angeles did not use it yet. 

Over time, as the Black Friday trend spread farther across the United States, stores started opening earlier and earlier, first moving from 6 a.m. to 4 or 5 a.m., then eventually to midnight. By the early twenty-first century, many retailers’ Black Friday sales started on Thanksgiving evening. At the height of Black Friday in the late 2000s and early 2010s, shoppers camped outside department stores and fights often broke out inside, making the whole ordeal a spectacle televised for everyone who chose to stay home.

“Cyber Monday” was coined in 2005, referring to the Monday after Black Friday on which many consumers who couldn’t get out over the weekend shopped for sales online from home or work. Retailers saw the trend as an opportunity to further extend Black Friday and increase their profit even more. By 2014, Cyber Monday had become the busiest shopping day of the year, exceeding $2 billion in online sales.

In 2015, Neil Stern of McMillan Doolittle said, “Black Friday is quickly losing its meaning on many fronts,” mainly due to stores starting their sales on Thanksgiving Day or sometimes earlier. Probably the main catalyst for the recession in Black Friday mania is online shopping, which NPD Group analyst Marshal Cohen cited in 2020 for its decline. This was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, causing many sales to extend farther into December or back into October. For the first time that I can remember, my family members that shop on Black Friday or Thanksgiving night did not this weekend. It seems that the convenience of buying things straight from our couches will likely continue to make in-person shopping obsolete.

This year 48% of Black Friday sales were made via smartphones with consumers spending a record high of $9.12 billion online this weekend.