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What is Black Friday?

Brad Russell

Brad Russell

The day that follows Thanksgiving, popularly known worldwide as Black Friday, has become a phenomenon. It is undoubtedly one of the busiest shopping days in the US, UK, Australia, and other countries. From national chain shops to boutique stores – big and small – traditionally offer specials that entice shoppers. For a limited time, buyers can grab money-saving deals on a wide variety of goods.

With the coronavirus pandemic, however, Black Friday in 2020 was not as big as the prior years. Many stores remained closed. Others were open, but social or physical distancing protocols were observed. Nevertheless, it did not stop people from shopping. The best thing about Black Friday is that people can get these deals at the comfort of their home.

So, What Exactly is Black Friday?

Black Friday, as you may have noticed, is a monumental sales day. It starts on the Friday right after Thanksgiving Day in the US. Large discounts associated with this event tip off the upcoming Christmas season. Americans and those who participate in the Black Friday shopping sales typically use the day as an opportunity to buy gifts for the holidays for less.

We’ve all seen videos of crowds running and going crazy over these pre-Christmas discounts. If you haven’t, check some of them out on YouTube and similar sites. But, be warned. They are usually not for the faint-hearted, although some videos are quite hilarious.

In Australia, the event is much calmer. Online retailers are more active with Black Friday sales compared to their brick and mortar counterparts.

In 2020, Black Friday was held on 27 November, which was the first Friday following Thanksgiving. Begin preparing for Black Friday 2021, which will commence on 26 November. The event typically spans the whole weekend and ends with Cyber Monday.

In order to understand what Black Friday is, let us pe deeper and see why it’s called Black Friday and where this term came from.

The History of Black Friday

Black Friday is an exciting time for most shoppers and of course, retail companies. Significant discounts almost always amount to big sales, meaning huge profits. It’s a win-win!

This retail bonanza is as fun and thrilling as you can imagine. It’s now a part of people’s Thanksgiving celebrations. While it is not considered a holiday in the US, many workers skip work to do some shopping.

But when did it all start? And why is it called “Black Friday?”

You may have thought its roots are as jolly as what takes place during this event. In reality, however, its history is not as cheery as most people believe.

The story told time and again about Black Friday links to retailers. After a whole year of operating with losses (dubbed as “in the red”), stores would earn a profit (“go into the black”). That takes place on the day after Thanksgiving. It is believed that holiday shoppers spend so much money when they see all the discounted goods.

The explanation behind black and red was related to how retail companies input their losses and profits. When they do their accounting, losses were in red while profits were listed in black. This origin of Black Friday was officially sanctioned. However, it is entirely inaccurate.

The first time the term “Black Friday” was ever mentioned was in September 1869. Unfortunately, it was not about the holiday shopping event. The term was uttered to describe a financial crisis that was happening at that time. On 24 September 1869, the US gold market crashed.

Jay Gould and Jim Fisk were Wall Street financiers who worked together to purchase as much gold as they could. The aim was to drive the US gold price as high as possible to gain mind-blowing profits. The day mentioned was a Friday, and the conspiracy unravelled. The stock market was in a free-fall, causing everyone (not just Wall Street tycoons but farmers, as well) to go bankrupt.

Although the term was mentioned, it was not comparable to how it is used today. The real story behind Black Friday stems in the 1950s in the city of Philadelphia. Police described the chaos that occurred on the day after Thanksgiving. Hordes of holiday shoppers and tourists were in the city to witness the Army-Navy football event, which was about to be held on that Saturday. It was an annual event, and every football fan was enthusiastic about it.

But Philly police were not happy at all. Not only were they required to work during the holidays, but it meant they would have to work longer shifts to help control the big crowds and heavier traffic. To add to the headache, many shoplifters took advantage of the situation by stealing merchandise from various stores around the area. Factory Management and Maintenance talked about “The Friday after Thanksgiving” in its November 1951 issue. It was not about the shopping rush but mostly addressing the workers’ absenteeism on that very day.

public relations newsletter talked about Black Friday for the first time in 1961 in Philadelphia. It was described as one of the biggest weekends for shoppers in the current history.

Every year, the whole scenario would repeat. By 1961, the term was already used everywhere in Philadelphia. Merchants in the city tried to change it to “Big Friday” and even “Big Saturday” to avoid being misconstrued. After all, the name did have some negative connotations. But Black Friday had already caught on in the area, but it was not until later that it became known all over the US, perhaps later than 1985. The earliest mention of Black Friday shopping on paper was on 28 November 1981 in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the late 1980s, retailers aimed to reinvent the phenomenon by turning it into something more positive. As a result, the “red to black” story was commonly repeated to help change the history into something less sinister for retailers and customers. The concept stuck on and became the official story behind Black Friday. It did have some truth to it, though. Stores truly earn bigger profits after Thanksgiving and during the Christmas season.

Soon enough, the negative side of Black Friday was largely forgotten. Although it refers to the Friday after Thanksgiving, it has morphed into an event that lasts for four days. Black Friday also gave way to the introduction of other retail holidays, including Small Business Saturday (or sometimes Sunday) and the other popular event, Cyber Monday.

Black Friday vs Cyber Monday

Every Black Friday, stores open early and close very late. Dedicated shoppers head to their favourite stores right after their Thanksgiving meal.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are not the same, although they are linked to each other. Black Friday now serves as a signal that the holiday retail season has begun. People go to brick and mortar stores to search for deals on the products they would like to buy.

Meanwhile, Cyber Monday is a much newer term coined in 2005. The National Retail Federation came up with the name with the press release headline that bore Cyber Monday. It described how the event was becoming one of the most active shopping days in the entire year. The article was based on research after retailers noticed a significant difference in their online sales every Monday after Thanksgiving.

According to the group, the goal was to promote Cyber Monday so that consumers would use their devices to shop instead of rubbing elbows with other shoppers at retail outlets. With the growing popularity of online shopping, Cyber Monday was destined to be huge, especially for people wanting to avoid crowds on Black Friday.

2019 held the world record for the biggest online sales, producing more than US$9 billion (approximately 11.5 billion AUD). It was almost 20% more than sales in 2018.

Another distinction, although it may not always be applicable, lies in the items that are discounted at specific times. For example, on Black Friday, items that are mostly on sale include:

  • Laptops
  • TVs
  • Android phones
  • Shoes
  • Jewellery

On the other hand, if you’re looking for discounts on the following, you’re better off shopping on actual Thanksgiving Day:

  • iPhones and iPads
  • tablets
  • clothing
  • headphones

For Cyber Monday, beauty items are the most popular, along with toys and speakers. But remember: even though these categories are strong on the mentioned days, buyers can always find other noteworthy offers on other products.

Black Friday in Numbers

Above, we have mentioned that the Black Friday weekend garnered about AU$11.5 billion in profits in 2019. With the pandemic crisis still ongoing, some analysts believed that the numbers would not be as high as the previous year, especially in the brick and mortar situation. Nevertheless, the projections were fairly positive towards Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Here are some of the predicted outcomes:

  • US$39 billion (AU$50+ billion) digital sales for all five events from Thanksgiving to Black Friday until Cyber Monday
  • US$1 trillion (AU$1.2+ trillion) projected retail sales for the US from November to December 2020
  • 49.5% increase in digital sales for Thanksgiving Day compared to 2019
  • US$23 billion (AU$29.6+ billion) for Black Friday and Cyber Monday digital sales
  • 35.8% increase in retail sales for eCommerce starting November to December 2020
  • 80% of shoppers would be comprised of Baby Boomers

After the Black Friday weekend, here are the statistics that came up for 2020:

  • US$10.8 billion (AU$ 13.9 billion) for online sales on Cyber Monday, which is more than 15% higher than 2019
  • US$106.5 (AU$137 billion) billion for the whole season’s online spending, which is 27.7% higher than the previous year
  • 37% of sales on Cyber Monday came from mobile device users
  • 501% of sales increase for smaller retailers
  • 486% sales growth for larger retailers
  • 30% increase in kerbside or contactless pickup
  • 23.9% decrease in sales for brick and mortar stores
  • 41.3% less foot traffic from Black Friday to Sunday
  • 44% less mall traffic
  • 23% less foot traffic on Cyber Monday

Here are other interesting numbers about this shopping holiday:

  • In the US, online sales increased from $1.93 billion in 2013 to over $7 billion in 2019.
  • A survey performed by Wells Fargo showed that almost 70% of shoppers did not have any plans on visiting physical stores due to the pandemic. The fact that many big stores were not open might have contributed to this result.
  • 54% of buyers already begin shopping even before Black Friday hits. About 45% of them start before 1 November.
  • 116.5 million emails are sent as part of marketing campaigns during Black Friday. It is considered the greatest number of emails sent on any other given day. According to statistics, 138% of consumers purchase products through email, so it does work!
  • SMS marketing can lead to up to 2000% return on investment when sent during Black Friday.
  • Walmart and Amazon are the biggest earners in online sales. Target and Best Buy often compete for the third spot.
  • Shoppers are believed to wait in line for approximately 2.5 hours to get a deal.

The biggest-selling items in 2020 were the following product categories:

  • Health and Beauty
  • Home and Garden
  • Fashion and Accessories
  • Food and Beverage
  • Sporting Goods and Hobbies

Home and garden took the top spot, followed by food and beverage and health and beauty, respectively. However, buyers were mostly looking forward to deals on electronics with the best-sellers being Apple Airpods, Apple Watches, Samsung TVs, and Amazon Echo devices.

Black Friday Amidst the Pandemic

Black Friday has always been celebrated by going to brick and mortar establishments. However, with the coronavirus pandemic, it is not advisable to gather in stores to enjoy deals. 2020 was a lot different from the previous years. Despite COVID-19 protocols, holiday sales began as early as October, particularly with Amazon Prime Day kicking off that year.

While we talked about the difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it seemed that 2020 made these more similar than ever. Since it was not safe to go to retail outlets, merchants were forced to give up their in-store discounts. Instead, they focused on online deals for Black Friday.

While there are no doorbusters in 2020, retailers continued to thrive, particularly the already dominant ones. Also, due to the pandemic, many kerbside pickup services have become a part of the tradition. For example, at the Arden Fair Mall in Sacramento, California, many Best Buy shoppers stayed outside the shopping hub. Long lines were remarkably absent.

However, customers still went home with their new TVs and electronics. These people planned their shopping activities and ordered online. They then received their orders through the kerbside pickup service.

A Quick Look at Black Friday around the World

The United States is not the only country where the famous Black Friday is held. While it is not practised in the entire world yet, it has become so popular that everyone knows what it is about.

Here are some facts about how Black Friday is spent in other places aside from the US:

  • Canada: Black Friday is commonly known as Vendredi Noir, although Canadians also recognise the English term. It’s held mostly in large areas in Lake Ontario and the Lower Mainland. Most Canadians go to the US, though because of the lower prices. In 2012, retailers began to provide better deals so that people did not need to cross the border to the US.
  • United Kingdom: Boxing Day is considered the biggest day for shoppers in the UK. In the early 2010s, Amazon and Asda were the largest retailers to hold Black Friday promotions that mirrored US offerings. In 2016, UK retail sales grew, amounting to £1.23 billion.
  • Mexico: Called El Buen Fin, Black Friday became an inspiration for the retail industry and government to provide weekend discounts annually. It has existed since 2011, starting from the weekend of November before the Mexican Revolution holiday.
  • France: Businesses are now introducing the Black Friday tradition since 2015. The growth is slow, but discounts of up to 85% can be obtained from Amazon and Apple.
  • Switzerland: It was only in 2015 when Black Friday was launched in Switzerland. Manor, a Swiss retailer, was the first to implement it. Since then, other offers were accessible, and customers were estimated to spend 400 million Swiss Francs in 2018.

Other countries where Black Friday has become a part of the Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations are Norway, Costa Rica, and Austria. New Zealand also has Black Friday, which began in 2013 with major retailers participating, such as The Warehouse and Harvey Norman.

Black Friday in Australia

In Australia, Black Friday is actually different. It refers to the Black Friday bushfires on 13 January 1939 (although it started in 1938). It was a devastating tragedy that swept the nation for many years.

Recently, however, Black Friday has been promoted as one of the shopping days in Australia. Buyers can either go in-store or buy from online retailers, just like in other parts of the world. Online retailers led Black Friday sales, which soon became a hit in 2011. Since then, profits skyrocketed, and Black Friday is now one of the country’s most lucrative shopping events.

In 2013, Australians enjoyed deals from Apple, allowing them to purchase online with free shipping offers and free iTunes gift cards for all purchases. In 2019, Amazon Australia experienced the biggest shopping day in its history. It merely shows that Australians are as enthusiastic with deals as everyone else.

Black Friday in Australia kicks off at midnight on the Friday after Thanksgiving in the US. In 2018, the date was 23 November, and in 2019, it was on 29 November. In 2020, Black Friday was celebrated on 27 November and will be on 26 November this year.

Online shoppers in the country wait for the stroke of midnight to officially begin their hunt for bargain prices. Therefore, if you wish to get the best deals, especially online, you should certainly set your alarm. Many stores, however, begin their Black Friday sales earlier than the mentioned dates above. You can even see various early bird offers from big and small retailers.

For brick and mortar stores, you can get discounts right at the time they open. Some merchants only hold sales for one day, but others stretch the deals until Cyber Monday, which fell on 30 November 2020.

Just like anywhere else, Australians love Black Friday due to one big reason: savings. It’s a great shopping experience, especially with the holidays coming up. Black Friday is a great time to start and complete your shopping list if you have not bought presents for your friends and loved ones.

Top Black Friday Sales

Black Friday sales in Australia have become massive. Even with the pandemic, consumers spent their hard-earned money to buy goods for themselves, families, and friends. A ton of Aussie retailers took part in the 2020 Black Friday event, along with Cyber Monday. It was indeed an excellent way to profit after struggling the past year.

Some of the retailers that hosted Black Friday deals were:

  • Dan Murphy’s (alcohol deals)
  • BWS (wine and alcohol deals)
  • Aldi (unique catalogue exclusive for Black Friday)
  • ShopBack (more bonuses for spending online at stores, such as eBay, The Iconic, and Myer)
  • Kogan (huge discounts on apparel, fitness, and homeware)
  • Catch.com.au (50% off)
  • Spotlight (fabric and homeware discounts)
  • Amazon (save money on smart devices, headphones, and phones)
  • Dell (save up to 40% on some laptops)
  • Lenovo (up to 59% on certain laptops)
  • Bose (up to 44% discount on audio devices)
  • HP Australia (up to 43% discount on desktops)
  • Sony (TV, discounts, as well as cameras and headphones)
  • Mobvoi (up to 35% discount on headphones and smartwatches)
  • Microsoft Australia (less price on Xbox and Surface range)
  • The Good Guys (big savings on TVs and appliances)
  • eBay (20% off on tech for eBay Plus members)
  • Rebel Sport (lower prices for fitness gear)
  • Wiggle (outdoor gear discounts)
  • Peak Design (20% off on Everyday bags)

For Australians, the best deals to look for include:

  • TVs: Perhaps the biggest reason people participate in Black Friday sales is to score a new TV. This sales event is when you will find the best price for TVs, particularly 4K TV, which will be in limited supply. In 2020, a 50-inch 4K TV was under AU$193, and a 75-inch was under AU$966. OLED TVs were around AU$1,280.
  • Toys: Children and kids at heart will love toys, making them a great buy during the upcoming holiday season. Also, parents would want to have their children entertained because of the pandemic while staying at home. Toys indeed sell fast during Black Friday sales.
  • Gaming Consoles: Prices drop on gaming consoles because, once again, they are sought-after gifts for the holidays. The newest systems were out before Black Friday, and there was no better time to purchase than before the weekend. Most of the popular consoles sold were sold out, including PlayStation 4 1TB, Xbox One S, and Nintendo Switch. Due to the high demand for the new consoles, the discounts were challenging to find. However, a new console with a popular new game was the ultimate bundle.
  • Appliances: With many people staying at home, most homeowners wanted new appliances from washers to refrigerators to microwave ovens. These items were hot during the Black Friday sale in 2020.

Aside from the enormous savings in-store and online, you can also get coupons to get discounts for your next purchase. Black Friday 2021 is still far away, but there is nothing wrong with planning your shopping spree. Start checking as early as October and sign up to newsletters and deal offers from your favourite merchant. When purchasing online, don’t forget you are protected under Australian Consumer Rights law. This way, you can shop with peace of mind on the next Black Friday.