The real story behind "Black Friday"
As we prepare for the commercial holiday that follows a little thing called Thanksgiving, the debate over whether stores should begin opening at midnight on Black Friday is raging. But when and where did Black Friday come from? What does it really mean? We asked Darrin Duber-Smith, Marketing Professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, to give us the lowdown on the biggest American shopping day of the year.
This dude is a Black Friday expert.
Westword: First of all, who are you and why are you an expert on Black Friday?
Darrin Duber-Smith: Well, I'm married. So, I know a lot about shopping. (Laughs) I've been in marketing and management for over 25 years. I've worked in many different industries for over one hundred different companies. I've had a consulting firm for the last thirteen. I spent a lot of time in the '90s in the natural products industry dealing with retailers like Whole Foods and Wild Oats, helping to develop a new model for retail. As you notice, a lot of the other retailers have kind of followed suit, and they all look a lot more natural and green and organic, don't they?
I learned a lot watching the industry go from one billion to one hundred and fifteen billion in about fifteen years.
I spent a lot of time doing that, and it taught me a lot, because we had to kind of break rules, and make new rules for getting shelf space in some of these more mainstream stores. I've been teaching for ten years now, so, I think I've been talking about Black Friday for five or six.
Where did the term "Black Friday" come from?
It comes actually from the 1960s, I believe. It was used by the Philadelphia police to describe the day after Thanksgiving, and it wasn't a very nice term. It really described all of the crowds and the pushing and shoving that happened. So, the police department coined the term "Black Friday." Honestly, it didn't become the busiest shopping day of the year until 2005. So, a lot of mythology perpetuated, I guess, because perception is reality in the consumer world.
It is interesting to see how retailers have turned it into a positive term -- and mythology has followed that "Black Friday" was the day that pushed retailers into the "black," meaning positive earnings, versus the "red."
Yes, at some point someone spun it and said, "well, 'Black Friday' really means this is the day that retailers go into the 'black' and start making profit." I think that's the understanding of what it means, and we've kind of morphed into that. So it went from a negative to a positive, and I don't know who really is responsible for that.
What changed in 2005 in particular that shifted "Black Friday" into becoming such a big day?
It really wasn't a change. It's just in 2005, it actually then became the busiest shopping day (profit-wise.) For years, it was the Saturday before Christmas. It was kind of something fabricated by marketers, and it just took a really long time to gain momentum. I don't know why it accelerated in the last five or six years, but it certainly has. I guess it's a pop-culture thing.
So, it's competition between retailers, really.
Yep. When online (sales) came into the picture, the number of retailers -- I don't know if they doubled, but certainly there are more and more retailers than ever -- makes it hyper-competitive. The discounting is pretty crazy.