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The History and Future of Black Friday

The History and Future of Black Friday


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Black Friday is fast approaching, and starting the game early is the secret to standing out in the overcrowded marketing surge. Almost every brand runs Black Friday deals, and it's the biggest day of sales for many brands. Looking at your plans for Black Friday early on allows you time to start developing the marketing strategies that will be guaranteed to maximise traffic to your site and get you the best sales yet. 

What's great about Black Friday's yearly appearance is that it provides tons of data on how customers have and will shop. In this blog, we'll be taking a look at where the Black Friday craze comes from, current statistics on Black Friday sales, and what the future of this shopping holiday may look like. 

What is Black Friday?

Black Friday falls every year on the first Friday after American Thanksgiving, and the day is infamous for its slashed prices and crazy sales that lead to a significant spike in consumer spending. Traditionally the day marks the beginning of Christmas shopping (although that seems to start earlier and earlier these days). 

Where Did Black Friday Come From?

Theory 1: The exact origin of Black Friday isn't entirely clear. One origin of the shopping holiday is from the 1960s. Police used the term to describe the large surges of shoppers in city centres to begin their holiday shopping. Police officers began naming it Black Friday due to the significant problems this surge of shoppers caused, e.g. traffic jams and shoplifting. "Black Friday" didn't signify a positive boost in retail sales nationwide until the late 1980s. 

Theory 2: Another origin of the name unrelated to shopping comes from 1869. Wall Street financiers Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempted to corner the nation's gold market at the New York Gold Exchange by buying as much precious metal as possible with the intent of sending prices skyrocketing. On Friday 24th September, intervention by President Ulysses S. Grant caused their plan to fall apart. The stock market instantly plummeted, sending thousands of Americans into bankruptcy. 

Theory 3: For a long time, it was falsely believed that the term Black Friday stemmed from companies being 'in the red', meaning to be operating in a financial loss, until the day after Thanksgiving, when massive sales finally allow them to turn a profit, or put them 'in the black'. The origin of this myth stemmed from the desire to put a positive spin on the term as it became increasingly clear the day after Thanksgiving could be marketed to customers to encourage even more spending. Prefacing a day with 'black' historically has negative connotations, e.g. Black Monday, which refers to the global, sudden, severe, and largely unexpected stock market crash on October 19, 1987. 

Black Friday has always been a marketing hack. In spinning the shopping holiday into a favourable time for sales and price reductions, brands have been marketing the day to encourage shopping crazes and excite spending. Even with multiple origins, determining why Black Friday is vital in the marketing world and the broader context that it takes place in is a helpful place to start in your preparations for the shopping holiday.

What Does it Mean Today?

Today, Black Friday is a worldwide day of sales and a shopping phenomenon. It has since been joined by other shopping holidays such as Cyber Monday, which focuses on shopping online. In the digital era, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are hugely important days for online advertising and email marketing. Since COVID-19, online shopping as a consumer preference has spiked, making digital marketing even more essential. 

Despite the feeling that Black Friday and Cyber Monday get more intense each year, shoppers have expressed increasing concerns about the excessiveness it promotes. One of the most prominent criticisms of the Black Friday period has been the promotion of 'unhealthy shopping', where shoppers fight, there are huge queues, and there are even cases of people being trampled. People have argued that companies urging shoppers to hurry in-store for the latest deals are responsible for this behaviour. 

This shopping period is also associated with Americanised excessive consumerism. As the American calendar determines the origins and timing of Black Friday, it's not surprising that the holiday has mainly become influenced by American spending. America is the world's largest consumer economy and largely dictates global spending habits. This is why Cyber Monday came into existence in 2005. It became noted that due to Americans generally wanting a slower-paced Thanksgiving holiday and only having high-speed internet in work offices, eCommerce sales would boom for a second time on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Since then, Cyber Monday has become another major shopping holiday for online shoppers and digital products. In 2021 US consumers spent $33.9 billion on Cyber Monday alone. 

The UK began participating in the shopping holiday in 2010, and it's since become an equally important sales day. In 2021 the UK accounted for 10% of global Black Friday searches online. An Emarsys survey found that the average UK consumer is expected to spend £283 over the Black Friday weekend – a 25% increase from £226 in 2021. With the continuing cost of living crisis in the UK, it's expected that more people than last year will take part in the sales in an attempt to save money leading up to the Christmas period. 

The Future of Black Friday 

Mainly since COVID-19, the patterns of shoppers' spending have changed dramatically, primarily because most shopping has moved online. A study from Visa says that only 20% of US consumers plan to do their shopping exclusively in-store, while nearly a third plan to do all of their shopping online. This has raised important questions for companies on how best to market their sales and how their customer's shopping behaviour can change during the Black Friday period. 

Another common trend in recent years has been starting Black Friday promotions earlier. This has come about for several reasons, firstly to spread out spending for customers to distract from the quantities they buy and to help provide more profit for brands. Secondly, to get an earlier market share, as consumers shop more at the retailer that gets to them first. At DMT, we always advise preparing your sales early leading up to Black Friday and getting your promotions out early to customers.

Forbes notes that since 2020 brands have been increasingly likely to avoid using the term Black Friday due to its negative associations. As climate consciousness is becoming an increasing priority for buyers, some brands have adopted the name 'Grey Friday' or 'Green Friday'. 

Green Friday is an anti-Black Friday movement and was started to help raise awareness about the impact of excessive shopping habits promoted during Black Friday. It's unclear when the movement officially started despite its growing popularity today. However, some have noted that the first references to the principles of Green Friday date back to Canada in 1992, when it was called 'Buy Nothing Day.'

Green Friday promotes shopping less, sustainably or not at all during Black Friday. Despite aiming to develop a consciousness of excessive spending, the movement offers interesting strategies for companies and small businesses looking for an alternative that still generates profits. The official Green Friday campaign suggests offering incentives such as unique products, referral bonuses, free next-day shipping, extended returns and loyalty perks. A charity donation for many independent retailers is another excellent example of new ways businesses can engage in Black Friday. Essentially, Black Friday doesn't just have to be about price slashing. The key takeaway for brands intending to run Black Friday deals is to think carefully about what kinds of offers you can run. Things like doubling loyalty points aren't an uncommon Black Friday strategy. In 2018 Estee Lauder did something similar with their loyalty programme. It served as a great way to increase loyalty card members and boost sales. 


While Black Friday continues to be a critical time of the year for brands and consumers, it's essential to note that some big changes are happening in how consumers shop and in the most effective approaches to marketing during this period. DMT offers expert services tailored to each of our clients. To learn more about our services and how your company could better advertise during the Q4 period, click here to read about our services, audits and case studies.