The term “Black Friday” refers to the mass-shopping event after Thanksgiving Day, when crowds of shoppers storm stores to take advantage of the biggest holiday bargains. But the history behind is much darker.
The first “Black Friday” was actually a name for a financial crisis: the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. When the conspiracy finally unraveled, the stock market went into free-fall, bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.
The most commonly repeated story behind the Black Friday tradition links it to retailers. As the story goes, after an entire year of operating at a loss (“in the red”) stores would supposedly earn a profit (“go into the black”) on the day after Thanksgiving, because holiday shoppers blew so much money on discounted merchandise. Though it’s true that retail companies used to record losses in red and profits in black when doing their accounting, this version of the term was used to erase the roots of its dark origin.
Since then, the one-day sales promotion has turned into a four-day event, spawning other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal.
Despite frequent attempts to control the crowds of shoppers, minor injuries are common among the crowds, usually as a result of being pushed or thrown to the ground in small stampedes. While most injuries remain minor, serious injuries and even deliberate violence have taken place on some Black Fridays.
The 2016 Thanksgiving weekend saw more than 154 million bargain hungry consumers open up their wallets, spending just over $289 on average, which was down from just under $300 in 2015.
Is Black Friday losing its power? And can lower sales impact share performance of retailers and online shopping sites? Only time will tell.