(CNN Business) — Chances are, you or someone you know is gearing up for Black Friday shopping.
The unofficial start of the holiday season has turned into a day that helps retailers attract shoppers to their stores. It’s almost a tradition in the United States, but despite popular perception, the name has nothing to do with the red or black ink found on dealers’ balance sheets.
Black Friday began in the 1950s in Philadelphia.
Dozens of suburban shoppers came to town in the days after Thanksgiving, according to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina. The city witnessed large sales and large decorations, before the football match between the army and the navy, which took place on Saturday.
‘It was a double whammy’ Taylor Blake told CNN. “Traffic cops were required to work 12-hour shifts, no one could leave, and people flooded the sidewalks, parking lots and streets. The police had to deal with all of that and coined the term.
The city’s merchants also began using the term to describe the long lines and shopping chaos in their stores. “It became this comedic reference to downtown Philadelphia after Thanksgiving.”
In 1961, the idea of changing the name of the holiday to “Big Friday” was proposed so that one of the biggest shopping days would not have a negative connotation. But that was not successful.
Over time, retailers learned to adopt the name and extended the shopping event to a day.
Around 2003, retailers increased store hours. That year, Kmart, Walmart, and Sears offered pre-dawn discounts starting at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. That was the same year that Black Friday became the most profitable shopping day of the year, according to data from the International Council of Shopping Centers. Before 2003, the most profitable shopping days in the United States were late December.
In 2011, Walmart extended its hours again when it opened its stores at 10pm on Thanksgiving night and remained open until Black Friday.
With the popularity of the Internet, another shopping day was born in 2005: Cyber Monday. It was a marketing term from the National Retail Federation to reflect the shopping frenzy that brick-and-mortar stores feel on Black Friday. Cyber Monday has exploded in popularity since then.
Shoppers said offers and discounts were the most important factor in choosing a store, followed by free shipping and a convenient location.
Katherine Vassell contributed to this story. Originally published November 2018 and updated November 2023.
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