Black Friday is the day following Thanksgiving Day in the United States, traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. On this day, most major retailers open extremely early, often at 4 a.m., or earlier, and offer promotional sales to kick off the shopping season, similar to Boxing Day sales in many Commonwealth Nations. Black Friday is not actually a holiday, but some non-retail employers give their employees the day off, 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.
The day’s name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1966 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that “Black Friday” indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are “in the black”.
For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00, but in the late 2000s, many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohls, Macy’s, Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time. An online petition with more than 200,000 virtual signatures is aimed at asking Target not to open so early. Walmart opened at 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving and Toys ‘R’ Us at 9:00 pm. In 2010, Sears was open on Thanksgiving Day.
Because Thanksgiving falls on the fourth Thursday in November in the United States, the day after occurs between the 23rd and the 29th of November.
The news media have long described the day after Thanksgiving as the busiest shopping day of the year. In earlier years, this was not actually the case. In the period from 1993 through 2001, for example, Black Friday ranked from fifth to tenth on the list of busiest shopping days, with the Saturday before Christmas usually taking first place. In 2003, however, Black Friday actually was the busiest shopping day of the year, and it has retained that position every year since except 2004, when it ranked second.
Black Friday is popular as a shopping day for a combination of several reasons. As the first day after the last major holiday before Christmas it inaugurates the Christmas season. Additionally, many employers give their employees the day off as part of Thanksgiving leave, increasing the potential number of shoppers. In order to take advantage of this, virtually all retailers in the country, big and small, offer various sales. Recent years have seen retailers extend beyond normal hours in order to maintain an edge, or to simply keep up with competition. Such hours may include opening as early as 12:00 a.m. or remaining open overnight on Thanksgiving Day and beginning sales prices at midnight. In 2010, Toys ‘R’ Us began their Black Friday sales at 10:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and further upped the ante by offering free boxes of Crayola crayons and coloring books for as long as supplies lasted. Other retailers, like Sears, Aéropostale, and Kmart, began Black Friday sales early Thanksgiving morning, and ran them through as late as 11:00 p.m. Friday evening. Forever 21 went in the opposite direction, opening at normal hours on Friday, and running late sales until 2:00 a.m. Saturday morning. Historically, it was common for Black Friday sales to extend throughout the following weekend. However, this practice has largely disappeared in recent years, perhaps because of an effort by retailers to create a greater sense of urgency.
The huge population centers around Lake Ontario in Canada have always attracted cross border shopping into the U.S. states, and as Black Friday became more popular in the U.S. 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 as Australia and 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 multiple contexts, going back to the nineteenth century, where it was associated with a financial crisis in 1869 in the United States. The earliest known reference to “Black Friday” to refer to the day after Thanksgiving was made 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 center city, 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:
Philadelphia police and bus drivers call it “Black Friday” – that day each year between Thanksgiving Day and the Army–Navy Game. It is the busiest shopping and traffic day of the year in the Bicentennial City as the Christmas list is checked off and the Eastern college football season nears conclusion.
The derivation is also clear in an Associated Press article entitled “Folks on Buying Spree Despite Down Economy,” which ran in the Titusville Herald on the same day:
Store aisles were jammed. Escalators were nonstop people. It was the first day of the Christmas shopping season and despite the economy, folks here went on a buying spree. … “That’s why the bus drivers and cab drivers call today ‘Black Friday,'” a sales manager at Gimbels said as she watched a traffic cop trying to control a crowd of jaywalkers. “They think in terms of headaches it gives them.”
The term’s spread was gradual, however, and in 1985 the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that retailers in Cincinnati and Los Angeles were still unaware of the term.
Many merchants objected to the use of a negative term to refer to one of the most important shopping days in the year. By the early 1980s, an alternative theory began to be circulated: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss for most of the year (January through November) and made their profit during the holiday season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving. When this would be recorded in the financial records, once-common accounting practices would use red ink to show negative amounts and black ink to show positive amounts. Black Friday, under this theory, is the beginning of the period where retailers would no longer have losses (the red) and instead take in the year’s profits (the black). The earliest known use, which like the 1966 example above was found by Bonnie Taylor-Blake of the American Dialect Society, is from 1981, again from Philadelphia, and presents the “black ink” theory as one of several competing possibilities:
If the day is the year’s biggest for retailers, why is it called Black Friday? Because it is a day retailers make profits — black ink, said Grace McFeeley of Cherry Hill Mall. “I think it came from the media,” said William Timmons of Strawbridge & Clothier. “It’s the employees, we’re the ones who call it Black Friday,” said Belle Stephens of Moorestown Mall. “We work extra hard. It’s a long hard day for the employees.”
The Christmas shopping season is of enormous importance to American retailers and, while most retailers intend to and actually do make profits during every quarter of the year, some retailers are so dependent on the Christmas shopping season that the quarter including Christmas produces all the year’s profits and compensates for losses from other quarters.
Whereas the 1996 film Jingle All the Way depicted a comedic dramatization of somewhat chaotic antics that people may go through in order to achieve their holiday shopping goals, recent years have seen a marked increase in extreme chaos resulting from people’s desires to take advantage of Black Friday sales.
In 2006, a man in Roanoke, Virginia shopping at Best Buy was recorded on video assaulting another shopper. Unruly Walmart shoppers at a store outside Columbus, Ohio, quickly flooded in the doors at opening, pinning several employees against stacks of merchandise. Nine shoppers in a California mall were injured, including an elderly woman who had to be taken to the hospital, when the crowd rushed to grab gift certificates that had been released from the ceiling.
In 2008 a crowd of approximately 2,000 shoppers in Valley Stream, New York, waited outside for the 5:00 a.m. opening of the local Walmart. As opening time approached the crowd grew anxious and when the doors were opened the crowd pushed forward, breaking the door down, and trampling a 34 year old employee to death. The shoppers did not appear concerned with the victim’s fate, expressing refusal to halt their stampede when other employees attempted to intervene and help the injured employee, complaining that they had been waiting in the cold and were not willing to wait any longer. Shoppers had begun assembling as early as 9:00 the evening before. Even when police arrived and attempted to render aid to the injured man, shoppers continued to pour in, shoving and pushing the officers as they made their way into the store. Several other people incurred minor injuries, including a pregnant woman who had to be taken to the hospital. The incident may be the first case of a death occurring during Black Friday sales; according to the National Retail Federation, “We are not aware of any other circumstances where a retail employee has died working on the day after Thanksgiving.”
During Black Friday 2010, a Madison, Wisconsin woman was arrested outside of a Toys ‘R’ Us store after cutting in line, and threatening to shoot other shoppers who tried to object. A Toys for Tots volunteer in Georgia was stabbed by a shoplifter. An Indianapolis woman was arrested after causing a disturbance by arguing with other Wal-Mart shoppers. She had been asked to leave the store, but refused. A man was arrested at a Florida Wal-Mart on drug and weapons charges after other shoppers waiting in line for the store to open noticed that he was carrying a handgun and reported the matter to police. He was discovered to also be carrying two knives and a pepper spray grenade. A man in Buffalo, New York, was trampled when doors opened at a Target store and unruly shoppers rushed in, in an episode reminiscent of the deadly 2008 Wal-Mart stampede.
On Black Friday 2011, a woman used pepper spray on fellow shoppers, causing minor injuries to at least 10 people who had been waiting hours for Black Friday savings. It was later reported that the incident caused 20 injuries. The incident started as people waited in line for the new Xbox 360. A witness said a woman with two children in tow became upset with the way people were pushing in line. The witness said she pulled out pepper spray and sprayed the other people in line. Another account stated: “The store had brought out a crate of discounted Xbox video game players, and a crowd had formed to wait for the unwrapping, when the woman began spraying people ‘in order to get an advantage,’ according to the police. In an incident outside a Walmart store in San Leandro, California, one man was wounded after being shot following Black Friday shopping at about 1:45am.
That the day after Thanksgiving is the “official” start of the holiday shopping season may be linked together with the idea of Santa Claus parades. Parades celebrating Thanksgiving often include an appearance by Santa at the end of the parade, with the idea that ‘Santa has arrived’ or ‘Santa is just around the corner’.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Santa parades or Thanksgiving Day parades were sponsored by department stores. These include the Toronto Santa Claus Parade, in Canada, sponsored by Eaton’s, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade sponsored by Macy’s. Department stores would use the parades to launch a big advertising push. Eventually it just became an unwritten rule that no store would try doing Christmas advertising before the parade was over. Therefore, the day after Thanksgiving became the day when the shopping season officially started.
Later on, the fact that this marked the official start of the shopping season led to controversy. In 1939, retail shops would have liked to have a longer shopping season, but no store wanted to break with tradition and be the one to start advertising before Thanksgiving. President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date for Thanksgiving one week earlier, leading to much anger by the public who wound up having to change holiday plans. Some even refused the change, resulting in the U.S. citizens celebrating Thanksgiving on two separate days. Some started referring to the change as Franksgiving.
In recent years, retailers have been trending towards opening on Black Thursday, Thanksgiving evening. In 2011, Walmart, will for the first time launch its holiday sale at 10:00 PM on Black Thursday.
Cyber Black Friday
The term Cyber Black Friday refers to the online version of Black Friday. According to Hitwise in 2010,
Thanksgiving weekend offered a strong start, especially as Black Friday sales continued to grow in popularity. For the 2nd consecutive year, Black Friday was the highest day for retail traffic during the holiday season, followed by Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. The highest year-over-year increases in visits took place on Cyber Monday and Black Friday with growth of 16% and 13%, respectively.
Advertising tip sites
Some websites offer information about day-after-Thanksgiving specials up to a month in advance. The text listings of items and prices are usually accompanied by pictures of the actual ad circulars. These are either leaked by insiders or intentionally released by large retailers to give consumers insight and allow them time to plan.
In recent years, some retailers (including Walmart, Target, OfficeMax, Big Lots, and Staples) have claimed that the advertisements they send in advance of Black Friday and the prices included in those advertisements are copyrighted and are trade secrets.
Some of these retailers have used the take-down system of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a means to remove the offending price listings. This policy may come from the fear that competitors will slash prices, and shoppers may comparison shop. The actual validity of the claim that prices form a protected work of authorship is uncertain as the prices themselves (though not the advertisements) might be considered a fact in which case they would not receive the same level of protection as a copyrighted work.
The benefit of threatening Internet sites with a DMCA based lawsuit has proved tenuous at best. While some sites have complied with the requests, others have either ignored the threats or simply continued to post the information under the name of a similar sounding fictional retailer. However, as the DMCA allows websites 24 hours to comply with the take-down notice or file a counter notice, careful timing may mitigate the take-down notice. An Internet service provider in 2003 brought suit against Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Target Corporation, arguing that the take-down notice provisions of the DMCA are unconstitutional. The court dismissed the case, ruling that only the third-party posters of the advertisements, and not the ISP itself, would have standing to sue the retailers.
Usage of Black Friday Advertising Tip sites and buying direct varies by state in the U.S., influenced in large part by differences in shipping costs and whether a state has a sales tax. However, in recent years, the convenience of online shopping has increased the number of cross-border shoppers seeking bargains from outside of the U.S., especially from Canada. Statistics Canada indicates that online cross-border shopping by Canadians has increased by about 300M a year since 2002. The complex nature of additional fees such as taxes, duties and brokerage can make calculating the final cost of cross-border Black Friday deals difficult. Dedicated cross-border shopping solutions such as the Canadian shopping platform Wishabi  and Canada Post’s Borderfree exist to mitigate the problem through estimation of the various cost involved.
The term Cyber Thanksgiving, refers to online retailer’s Thanksgiving Day promotions. According to The Record (Bergen County, New Jersey):
Thanksgiving Day is becoming increasingly important for online sales, according to e-commerce watchers. It has become the lead-in for five days of online deals experts say are causing some bargain hunters to shop online instead of standing in line at stores.
“Thanksgiving interestingly enough has turned into a really big sales day for us in the last couple of years,” said Greg Ahearn, senior vice president, marketing and e-commerce, for Wayne, New Jersey-based Toys “R” Us. “Everybody’s looking for information about what’s going to happen on Black Friday, but when they hit the Web sites they realize there’s a bunch of great deals there, and free shipping,’’ he said. “And if they get the right deals on the products that they’re looking for, they actually create a purchase on Thanksgiving Day as opposed to waiting for Black Friday.”
The term Cyber Monday, a neologism invented in 2005 by the National Retail Federation’s division Shop.org, refers to the Monday immediately following Black Friday based on a trend that retailers began to recognize in 2003 and 2004. Retailers noticed that many consumers, who were too busy to shop over the Thanksgiving weekend or did not find what they were looking for, shopped for bargains online that Monday from home or work.
The National Retail Federation releases figures on the sales for each Thanksgiving weekend. 
|Year||Date||Survey Published||Shoppers, millions||Average Spend||Total Spend||Consumers Polled||Margin for Error|
|2011||24 Nov||27 Nov||226m||$398.62||$52.5 billion||3,826||1.6%|
|2010||25 Nov||28 Nov||212m||$365.34||$45.0 billion||4,306||1.5%|
|2009||26 Nov||29 Nov||195m||$343.31||$41.2 billion||4,985||1.4%|
|2008||27 Nov||30 Nov||172m||$372.57||$41.0 billion||3,370||1.7%|
|2007||22 Nov||25 Nov||147m||$347.55||n/a||2,395||1.5%|
|2006||23 Nov||26 Nov||140m||$360.15||n/a||3,090||1.5%|
|2005||24 Nov||27 Nov||n/a||$302.81||n/a||n/a||n/a|
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