There’s nothing quite as exciting as setting your alarm for 2 AM on Black Friday to get that 200” TV for $20! But seriously, what’s the deal with Black Friday? We’ll set the record straight about this and more. Check out the facts about Black Friday history and how to feel more confident in your holiday shopping and cash in on all the hot deals. Here’s the lowdown on how Black Friday started, and nine associated myths — debunked!
Evolution of Black Friday: Common misconceptions
The origins of Black Friday are widely misunderstood. One of the most common misconceptions is that the holiday was named after the 1869 stock market scare, which was also called Black Friday, but is unrelated to the shopping event. Some also believe it was named after the 1929 stock market crash, which occurred on a Tuesday and is actually called Black Tuesday.
Today, most shoppers think of Black Friday as the day that retail stores get into “the black,” referring to the black ink that indicates profit on their financial documents (in contrast to red ink, which is associated with profit losses). Many retailers do become profitable on Black Friday, but this isn’t how the holiday began. So when did Black Friday start and how did it get its name?
Origins and Name: Why is it called Black Friday?
The origins of Black Friday trace back to the 1960s in Philadelphia. Each year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Army-Navy football game drew massive crowds and traffic to the city. The police and sales clerks started dreading the day before the game so much that they started calling the day “Black Friday.” The influx of travelers overburdened the city and caused traffic catastrophes, congested retail stores, and a spike in accidents and retail theft.
Over the years, the name “Black Friday” developed a negative connotation. To reverse it, the city tried to change the name to “Big Friday,” but the original name had already solidified in people’s minds. Eventually, as the tradition of shopping on this weekend continued, retail stores had to work longer hours to keep up with the demand. They eventually started offering sales events over Black Friday weekend to maximize profits.
By the 1980s, Black Friday had become a fun novelty rather than something to be dreaded. Ten years later, retailers started running special Black Friday advertisements, and the event developed into the shopping event we know today. Since then, this retail phenomenon has spread to several other countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, Brazil, Spain, Austria, Singapore, Scandinavia, and elsewhere.
Myth #1: Black Friday deals start before Thanksgiving and extend past Black Friday
Some people mistakenly believe they can only get Black Friday deals on the Friday after Thanksgiving. According to Business Insider, however, Black Friday sales actually start happening several weeks before the day, and they last for a week after Cyber Monday. They report that online retailers started offering some of their best discounts of 2021 in October. Every retailer sets its own dates for when their best deals will go into effect, but in today’s retail environment, it’s earlier than ever. So follow your favorite stores’ social media accounts or subscribe to their emails to find out when those days are. This way you’re highly unlikely to miss out!
Myth #2: Doorbuster sales offer the best discounts you can get on Black Friday
It used to be that retailers would advertise their doorbuster sales far and wide as their most dramatic savings event of the year. This encouraged riotous behavior that forced shoppers into close proximity to fight over limited quantities of deeply discounted merchandise. Black Friday during coronavirus may have signaled the end of this tradition, as doorbuster promotions seem to be going away.
Instead of limiting savings to a single day while supplies last, retailers are now commonly spreading their discounts across several weeks, providing pickup options and encouraging staggered shopping to decongest stores during the holidays. Not only does this increase their sales, but it also makes it easier for you to save money, and to do so safely.
Myth #3: Not everything is cheaper on Black Friday
On Black Friday, all types of merchandise go on sale to some degree — even luxury-branded goods. With certain items, you can get up to 50% off, and data suggests Black Friday specials offer an average savings of 37%. But just because there are widespread sales on Black Friday doesn’t always mean it’s the cheapest day to buy everything on your shopping list. According to RetailMeNot’s sales analysis from the last few years, some things are reliably better to buy on Black Friday than others, including:
- Smartwatches and fitness trackers
- Small appliances
- Small home gadgets
- Wireless earbuds
- Video games
On the other hand, items like furniture, clothing, and the newest game consoles are not as discounted and may actually be cheaper at different times of the year. It’s always worth monitoring social media and email subscriptions for deals on the specific items on your shopping radar.
Myth #4: Black Friday is a dangerous threat to your health and safety
Fact/Fiction: Mostly fiction
Based on figures from the Black Friday Death Count, there have been 14 deaths and 117 injuries worldwide in the last 15 years. As startling and tragic as these events were, fortunately they are extremely rare.
When you watch the news and see footage of people fighting each other over merchandise, remember that events like these get coverage because they’re uncommon. In fact, you’re statistically more likely to be struck by lightning! Black Friday is much safer with COVID guidelines and now that doorbuster events are becoming a thing of the past.
If you’re still worried about safety on Black Friday, avoid peak shopping times and wait until later in the day after crowds have dispersed to venture out. Another great alternative is to explore the sales online from the comfort of your home.
Myth #5: Not all Black Friday deals are advertised
It isn’t always in a retailer’s best interests to advertise all the deals they offer. By keeping certain discounts out of ads, a seller can quietly beat their competitors’ prices without being detected. Not every store does this, however, so it’s still wise to check the ads and see what promotions are being offered. This way, you can shop around to see how one store’s promotional discounts compare with competitor pricing to ensure you get the best deal.
Myth #6: Cyber Monday yields more online sales than Black Friday
It’s reasonable to believe Cyber Monday events would outsell Black Friday events because they take place exclusively online and foster convenient participation. But recently, retailers have begun to offer as many great Black Friday sales online as they do in store or on Cyber Monday.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Black Friday in 2019 was an even bigger shopping day than Cyber Monday, and 2021 is expected to be just as busy. A survey of a thousand shoppers by BlackFriday.com showed that 52% of respondents were “... somewhat or very likely to shop Black Friday sales events (either in store or online) this year,” and Cyber Monday is expected to set an online shopping record of 61%. It’s safe to say that Black Friday and Cyber Monday, these days, are equally popular events for online shoppers.
Myth #7: It’s often more difficult to return items purchased on Black Friday
If you plan to shop on Black Friday, make a list of the items you want to buy beforehand so you can be confident in your purchases. If you spend too much or impulse buy and want to return some items later, it may not be possible. During the holidays, some retailers crack down on their return policies and may only offer store credit even with the presentation of a receipt. Make sure to get a gift receipt for all your purchases this year so that your recipients can at least use the store credit if they need to return a gift.
Myth #8: It’s always better to wait for Black Friday before you start your holiday shopping
Waiting to shop is a gamble, especially during Black Friday in times of COVID. We’ve seen that crises like COVID-19 and supply chain shortages can cause disruptions to product availability — so if you wait until Black Friday to start shopping, there’s no guarantee that everything on your shopping list will still be available with the high demand for products on Black Friday.
Fortunately, BlackFriday.com says 66% of shoppers are going to get their holiday shopping done early this year. We advise that you do the same, leaving just a few of your higher-dollar expenses for Black Friday. That way, you can still save where it counts the most and be prepared for the unexpected.
Myth #9: You can’t price match or use coupons on Black Friday deals
If you think you can’t price match or use coupons on Black Friday because the prices of goods are already at their lowest, think again. On Black Friday, some stores will match the lower price that another store is offering on a specific product. Bring the sales ads with you on your Black Friday shopping spree so you can get the lowest-offered price out there on as many items as you can! Certain stores may also allow you to use multiple coupons at once if your purchase meets all the other conditions of the coupon — even on Black Friday.
What Black Friday May Look Like Moving Forward
Now that you know about Black Friday history, myths, and facts, you may also be wondering what to expect in future years.
Overall, we expect that it will only get easier to shop Black Friday sales from here on out, based on projections from The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience. Not only are sales being extended increasingly longer throughout the holiday season, but retailers are also starting to offer “buy now, pay later options,” free shipping and delivery, and pickup. These options enable shoppers to make the most of Black Friday sales even if they can’t travel or don’t have the budget flexibility to shop sales the moment they happen.
The bottom line? If you’ve never participated in Black Friday, there’s never been a better time to start.