On Friday 24 September 1869, a disastrous slump on the US stock exchange led to the introduction of a term that is now understood as the opposite of its original meaning. While it then had negative connotations, Black Friday today refers to a weekend of bargain shopping in late November. The name refers to retailers being ‘in the black’, that is, in credit rather than in debt.
THE LUCKY FEW
First introduced in the 1980s, Black Friday was soon extended over the weekend, as it turned out to be the most profitable day in the retail industry. Shoppers were encouraged to take advantage of major discounts only available during the event. Retail and consumer spending drive up to 70 per cent of US gross domestic product (GDP), which remains, controversially, the indicator of the wealth of an entire nation. The success of Black Friday, which was even declared a public holiday in some states, led to this event going global.
As Black Friday was aggressively marketed and grew in popularity in the 1990s, stores began opening their doors at midnight or very early on Friday morning. Bargain hunters queued or even camped outside in the cold. When the doors were finally opened, a stampede often occurred.
DEATH AT THEMALL
As a consequence, Black Friday-related incidents in America have left dozens injured, some fatally. In 2008, an employee at the Walmart store on Long Island, New York was trampled to death when more than two thousand shoppers broke through the shop’s front door. Between 2012 and 2016, eighteen shootings were reported: in Tallahassee, Florida, two men were shot over a parking spot. In 2020, two teenagers were stabbed at a California mall.
Nevertheless, it is not the savagely competitive spirit promoted by marketing tactics that appears to concern governments, but the physical gathering of people. That is why, in the early 2000s, retailers responded to the trend of shoppers going online the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend by introducing Cyber Monday. By 2017, Americans were spending $6.6 billion online during Cyber Monday sales events, just short of the $7.9 billion spent on Black Friday itself.