We all know that Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the US, which is always the fourth Thursday of November. It has long been regarded as the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and most major retailers open very early (or more recently, during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales, but what does it all mean?
Black Friday is not an official holiday in the retail industry, but California and some other states observe “The Day After Thanksgiving” as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day. Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers. It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time. Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.
In 2014, retail industry multi-channel retail spending volume, on Black Friday fell for the first time since the 2008 recession. $50.9 billion was spent during the 4-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from the previous year. However, the U.S. economy was not in a recession. “Christmas Creep” has been cited as one of the reasons in the diminishing importance of Black Friday, as many retailers now spread out their promotions over the entire months of November and December rather than concentrate them on a single shopping day or weekend.
The day’s name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used by the retail industry to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss (“in the red”) from January through November, and “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or “in the black.”
It was common for retailers to open at 6:00 AM on Friday but in the late 2000s, many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. In the evolution of retail, this was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bealls opened at midnight for the first time. In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers. In 2014 many more stores opened at 5:00 or 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving Day, and this retail industry trend continues in 2015.
There have been several reports of violence occurring between shoppers on Black Friday. Since 2006, there have been seven reported deaths and ninety-eight injuries throughout the United States. Because of “loss leaders,” it is not uncommon for prospective shoppers to camp out over the Thanksgiving holiday in an effort to secure a place in front of a particular store’s line to have a better chance at getting a loss leader. (The idea of a loss leader is to draw customers into a store where they are likely to buy other goods. The retail industry expects that the typical customer will purchase other items at the same time as the loss leader and that the profit made on those additional items will result in an overall profit being generated for the retailer.) Because overnight camping poses a significant safety risk (such as the use of propane and generators in the most elaborate cases, and in general, the blocking of emergency access and fire lanes) at least one Ohio city has banned this practice, but shoppers are still welcome to wait in line.