What Is Black Friday - History of the Holiday Shopping Phenomenon - Deepstash

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Why Black Friday Is So Popular

Black Friday is the conventional starting day for the holiday shopping season.

Historically, it’s also been the best day to find great deals on the year’s hottest toys, games, and electronics.

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The 20th Century: The Parade of Sponsors

  • In the middle of the 20th century, Thanksgiving parades drew crowds in most major cities and in some of the smaller towns too. Many were sponsored by local or national retailers. Back in the day, that meant mostly department stores.
  • By attaching their names to the most visible events on the preholiday calendar, department stores reminded their customers that they were open for business in the coming holiday shopping season.
  • Over time, Thanksgiving parades came to mark the unofficial start of that season.

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The Modern Holiday Shopping Calendar

  • Thanksgiving fell on the last Thursday of November since 1863 until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November (starting with 1941), influenced by the request of a powerful coalition of retailers.
  • When Thanksgiving fell on November 30, it left only 24 holiday shopping days and this worried retailers who reasoned that busy holiday shoppers would simply shop less in a shorter season.
  • They promoted the idea that a longer holiday shopping season would be good for the American economy.

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The Term “Black Friday”

  • In 1869, two oligarchs conspired to corner the American gold market, which was at that time the basis for the U.S. dollar.
  • Their plan was so complex and the plot finally unraveled on Friday, September 24, sending U.S. financial markets into a tailspin, ruining countless investors, and tanking the broader economy.
  • That dark day came to be known as “Black Friday.”

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Why Black Friday Is “Black”

Black Friday wasn’t a great day for the police departments in mid-20th-century Philadelphia. By the 1960s, locals had taken to calling the chaotic day after Thanksgiving “Black Friday.”

In 1950s Philadelphia, Thanksgiving weekend was a mob scene. The Army and Navy college football teams celebrated their fierce rivalry each year with a neutral-ground clash in Philly on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The day before, thousands of people from surrounding communities – as well as Army or Navy devotees from farther afield – flooded the city in anticipation of the big game. They took the opportunity to stock up on clothes, home goods, and other giftable items at central Philly’s many retail shops and department stores.

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The Department Store Model: Holiday Shopping in the Early to Mid-20th Century

  • The day after Thanksgiving was a natural time for shoppers to head into town and hit the department store. Most families were still together from the prior day’s feast, and few middle-class folks were required to work.
  • Big-city shopping districts were anchored by department stores. Department stores sold clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, home goods, appliances, and much more.
  • With a single visit to a department store and a few side trips to specialty retailers, you could take care of your entire holiday shopping list in a single day.

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Black Friday Today

  • Today’s retail environment is omnichannel. Shoppers are just as likely – if not more so – to buy stuff at home on their smartphones or laptops than drive to the nearest mall to seek the best deals in person.
  • The decline of brick-and-mortar retail is devastating the lower and middle echelons of the suburban shopping center market and threatens to deal a last dealt a death blow to the downtown department store model.
  • Black Friday now happens when, where, and how consumers choose. It’s also happening earlier than ever, with “Black Friday” deals appearing as early as Halloween.

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