How Working Women Created Black Friday

How Working Women Created Black Friday

How did the day after Thanksgiving become the biggest shopping day of the year? The answer may surprise you - it's not as retailer-driven as you may have thought. And are the deals worth-fighting the crowds? Well, sometimes.
Historyplex Staff
Oh, Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Some avoid it like the plague, hunkering down at home until the madness subsides, while others crave the adrenaline rush so badly they cut Thanksgiving dinner short to camp in front of stores overnight. Most likely, you fall somewhere between the two extremes. Black Friday shopping is a tradition for some, but others prefer to avoid frantic crowds and do their bargain hunting online.
Every year it seems to get more outlandish - people trampled at store openings, fistfights over the hot gift of the year, incredible deals on high-ticket electronics - and we love it. In 2011, Americans spent a collective $52 billion on Black Friday alone, with each person spending an average of almost $400. In one day. Do you ever wonder how this whole thing got started?
It's Relatively New
Believe it or not, the day after Thanksgiving wasn't always a busy day - it consistently ranked as low as number 10 as far as big shopping days go. But in the early 1960s, it gradually picked up steam due to two factors: more women in the workplace, and an extra day off.

Traditionally, housewives had all season to do the holiday shopping, so there was no urgency to begin immediately - besides, most of them spent Friday recovering from hosting Thanksgiving dinner. But as more women became employed outside the home, time spent outside the workplace was at a premium. Coupled with the fact that employers began allowing four-day weekends for Thanksgiving, that extra day became the perfect time to get a jump on the holiday shopping. Retailers noticed, and began gearing sales and product hype towards that very day.
It Started in Philly
The term "Black Friday" was coined in Philadelphia, where traffic and crowds were beginning to become a problem on the Friday after Thanksgiving. The term was first used in 1961, but remained a local thing until the mid 70s when it spread throughout the country driven by the national nature of major chain retailers.

It's also said that business owners used the term to describe the day that brought them out of the red and into the black - in other words, a big profit day. While it may be true that some retailers operate at a net loss until the holiday season, the same cannot be said for the likes of WalMart and Best Buy, two of the biggest Black Friday cheerleaders in the nation.
Is It Worth It?
So, is it really worth fighting the crowds? Some of those deals sound really great. Sure they do, provided you actually get them. Putting aside the massive traffic and human crowding that goes on during these events, the deals aren't generally as great as they're made out to be. For example, a store may advertise a Black Friday special of a 40-in. television for $200. Sounds like a deal, right? So they advertise it for weeks, sending out mailers, peppering TV and radio with breathless commercials, all to get you excited.

But what they fail to mention is that they only ordered four of those TVs. If you're not one of the first four people to run through the front door at the opening bell, you're not getting that deal. But they have another lovely TV, they can sell you! It's a lot more expensive, but it's a much better quality, blah blah blah. It's called bait and switch. It happens every single year. It is the retailers' M.O. Once they get you in the door, it's really easy to get you to buy something - after all, you're already in the mood to spend.
It's Not Your Last Chance - Or Your First
Black Friday has grown to such epic proportions that it has spawned offspring. Cyber Thanksgiving is the name given to the new tradition of online retailers offering limited-time promotions on Thanksgiving Day. Cyber Friday is the online version of Black Friday - same deals, similar problems - many major retailers' websites experience such massive traffic that the server shuts down completely. For the less-frantic, there's Cyber Monday, where retailers offer online - only deals to those who are shopping online despite being back at the office.
Clearly, we don't let anything interfere with our right to consume.