How did Black Friday get started?

Do you hit the stores on Black Friday? Or shop on Cyber Monday in the comfort of your home? Statistics say there’s a good chance you do one or both.

History of Black Friday

Holiday gift-giving is a centuries-old tradition. However,  the holiday shopping season is very much a creation of 20th-century consumer culture. When President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation establishing Thanksgiving in 1863, he decreed the holiday would fall on the last Thursday of November. Later, in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to move Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday of November.

By this time, the holiday shopping season was synonymous with the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas. When Thanksgiving fell on November 30, as it did in 1939, that left only 24 holiday shopping days. This worried retailers who believed that busy holiday shoppers would simply shop less in a shorter season.

Therefore,  a powerful coalition of retailers and other business interests asked Roosevelt to extend the shopping season. Their pitch stated: A longer holiday shopping season would be good for the American economy. This came at a perfect time as they were working on building back the economy from the Great Depression. Roosevelt was sold!  The day that would later be known as ‘Black Friday’ marked the official start of the holiday shopping season.

Black Friday Today

Today’s retail environment is omnichannel. Shoppers are just as likely,  if not more, to shop at home on their smartphones or laptops than drive to the nearest mall or store.

Cyber Monday marked the first real challenge to Black Friday’s dominance. It’s now arguably bigger than Black Friday. Meanwhile, Small Business Saturday, a prime opportunity to shop local and support independent businesses, is rapidly gaining popularity as well.

Recently, Black Friday has outgrown the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Many retailers now do “Black Friday week” promotions beginning as early as the Sunday before Thanksgiving. These multi-day Black Friday sales appeal to shoppers seeking fantastic in-person deals without the crushing crowds, early opening hours, or stocking issues common to Black Friday itself.

Now, we have the option to choose when and where to spend our money. And if it involves avoiding crowds and fighting over limited merchandise, all the better.

Carolina Macedo, the author, is Project Coordinator of Marketing Keys. As a millennial, she prefers Cyber Monday to Black Friday.