How Black Friday Got Its Name

For many Brits the term Black Friday brings to mind pictures of mayhem in America with fighting over TVs, stampedes of gift-grabbers bursting through shop fronts and car parks full of honking cars and aggravated drivers. Although a different kind of mayhem, the term’s origin does have roots in turbulence.

Black Friday began in Philadelphia in the 1960s. Tourists would flood to the city on the day between Thanksgiving and the annual Army-Navy football game held on Saturday, making the city extremely busy. It is said the Philadelphia police nicknamed the day Black Friday because officers had to work long hours, deal with large crowds, terrible traffic and due to the time of year the day was often topped off with bad weather.

Due to the large crowds, local businesses wanted to draw in shoppers, but disliked the negative connotations associated to the police’s nickname for the day. In an attempt to rebrand the holiday, they started calling it ‘Big Friday’ with little success – it never caught on. Businesses later decided to reclaim the name Black Friday by saying it was the day when the stores’ books went from red ink (losing money) to black (accumulating money).

Over the years, the obsession with Black Friday sales has become so extreme it has led to a succession of injuries and even deaths in America as shoppers surge into stores in a blind rush. This day of mass hysteria has become so important to retailers there is now also Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving that is marketed as a day for online shopping, and Small Business Saturday which encourages people to shop at local businesses.

Traditionally, Boxing Day has been considered the biggest shopping day of the year in the UK. Black Friday made its way across the pond in the 2010s when the concept was introduced to the UK by American-owned retailers such as Amazon and the then Walmart-owned Asda. In 2014 more British retailers began to adopt US-style Black Friday promotions, and police were called to shops across the UK to deal with crowd control issues, assaults, threatening customers and traffic issues. Following these incidents, some retailers began to discontinue or heavily modify their promotions.

In 2000 Michael Smith, a graphic designer passionate about environmental and ethical issues, created Buy Nothing Day – a movement encouraging people to avoid falling into the consumerism trap and to instead avoid spending all together on Black Friday. Research carried out by Which? showed that 60% of the deals investigated were available for the same price or cheaper at other times of the year, and that 46% of the items cost the same, or less, in December, meaning the ‘unbeatable deals’ may not be all they seem…