How "Black Friday" came to be -- and how to shop safely this year.

Rose Bak

The annual holiday shopping frenzy is back, but with the second year of pandemic precautions.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Ready or not, the Christmas shopping juggernaut is upon us. It kicks off with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which is officially considered the first day of the Christmas season in the U.S.

How did we start using the term “Black Friday” to describe the biggest shopping day of the year?

The term “Black Friday” was initially was coined to mark the devastating stock market crash in 1929.

The History Channel site reports that the term “Black Friday” became associated with the day after Thanksgiving in the 1950s when the police department in Philadelphia started using the term to describe the chaos of Christmas shopping. The combination of crazy crowds, brazen shoplifters, pickpockets, and the requirement to work on the day after Thanksgiving was a dark day for those in law enforcement. The term spread from there.

In the late 1980s, retailers co-opted the term “Black Friday”. Retailers noted that their stores, which typically operated at a loss the first ten months of the year, finally started to turn a profit with the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Essentially, Black Friday was the day that stores went from operating “in the red” to “in the black” in accounting terms.

For shoppers, Black Friday became synonymous with the best shopping deals of the year. With their entire year of profit riding on the holidays, retailers aggressively marketed products, offered outrageously reduced sale prices, lengthened store hours, and turned Black Friday into one of the most anticipated events of the year. Families and friends often have a tradition of getting together to find the best sales and get their Christmas shopping done in one day.

But it’s no longer just Black Friday. Over the last twenty years, the Christmas season kick-off has continued to grow and spawned an entire four-day shopping weekend extravaganza that now includes Black Friday, Small Business Saturday & Sunday, and Cyber Monday.
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Why do people love to shop on Black Friday?

Black Friday sales often include “loss leaders” which is a retail term for offering a product at a sharply reduced price in order to entice customers into the store where they will presumably buy other items at a higher profit. Come for the $100 television, stay for the game box, wireless headphones, and wireless doorbell.

Generally, these deep discounts are limited, either by what time you come to the store or for a limited number of purchases. This can create a scarcity mentality where shoppers feel the need to get to the store early and grab one of the precious sales items.

The frenzy of these large sales has been problematic and, at times, even deadly. Every year we see videos of people rushing into stores, pushing and shoving as they frantically began shopping, occasionally with serious consequences. People have literally been trampled to death during Black Friday sales.

We may laugh and shake our heads at those crazy people who want a deal so bad they are willing to knock people over to get it. But the schadenfreude of watching people battle for sales is also rooted in racism and classism. Many people think they are “better” than those shoppers because they have the financial means and privilege to avoid Black Friday.

While many people participate in Black Friday for the sport of it, there are many people for whom fighting for Black Friday deals are the only way they are going to be able to afford the items they want.
Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

How will holiday shopping be different this year?

There’s no doubt that Black Friday will be significantly different this year, especially with so many of us under pandemic restrictions. It will be interesting to see what stores come up with to maximize their profits in new ways this holiday season.

This shopping year has been more “in the red” for many stores, particularly those that don’t offer online sales, and no doubt retailers will be even more desperate to bring people in. The challenge will be, how?

If stores are limited to 50% occupancy, for example, how do they handle the frantic rush for sales and keep moving people through quickly? How do people keep safe in Black Friday lines? And how many people will stay home because it simply feels too dangerous to be in a crowd?

It all remains to be seen. No doubt stores will be increasingly relying on contactless shopping like online sales and drive-through pick-up of purchased items. But it will also be hard for stores, especially small local businesses, to stand out in search engines. Small stores can never hope to compete with the variety, volume, and pricing of Amazon or any of the other large online retailers.

As you plan your holiday shopping, remember that small businesses have been hit particularly hard this year. Try to support the small stores in your community, or support small businesses on Etsy or Go Imagine.

If you must participate in Black Friday, remember these tips to stay safe:

  • Avoid the opening crush when the stores first open and the crowds are largest
  • Minimize the number of stores you visit; focus your attention on one or two stores that will have what you are most interested in purchasing
  • Visit shops that you can access from the outside instead of an indoor mall
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth and keep it on
  • Try not to touch things more than you absolutely have to
  • Bring hand sanitizer and use it frequently, especially if you touch something like a credit card machine keypad or a door
  • Pay attention to your surroundings so you can stay 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid using the public restrooms if you can
  • Wipe down your purchases with disinfectant when you get home
  • Avoid in-person shopping if you are sick or you or someone in your home has compromised immunity

Or better yet, stay home and relax with a holiday movie and tap into your creative side. Make a commitment to giving handmade gifts this year, they will mean more than any Black Friday deal.

Happy Thanksgiving!

#thanksgiving #blackfriday #christmasshopping #pandemic

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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