What Is Black Friday?

How Black Friday originated and what it means to the tech world

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and is widely considered the beginning of the holiday shopping season. The term "Black Friday" gained popularity in the early 2000s through its use on websites for online sales intended to compete with sales at physical stores. As the term spread across the country through the internet, traditional retailers officially adopted the term as well.

What Does Black Friday Mean?

In the U.S., Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday of November. The next day, Black Friday, is the most popular shopping holiday of the year, with many retailers reserving their deepest discounts and best sales for that specific day.

The name is also connected to the term "in the black," which represents profits in accounting. Many retailers operate at a loss for most of the year (in the red) and make a profit during the holiday shopping season in November and December.

Beginning in 2013 and 2014, more and more retailers began moving back the start time of their Black Friday deals from the early morning hours of Friday morning to the evening of Thanksgiving Day to lengthen the popular shopping day. Some retailers have gone further, kicking off Black Friday sales as early as the Monday before Thanksgiving Day.

History and Origin

The use of the name Black Friday to refer to the day after Thanksgiving reportedly began in Philadelphia in the 1950s. At the time, police officers in the city used the term internally to reference the large crowds of pedestrians and vehicles that congested Philadelphia's shopping district annually on that day. The crowds of people and cars resulted in accidents and often violence that required every officer to be on duty to keep order and manage the chaos.

The first published use of the term Black Friday was in a 1966 advertisement by a rare stamp dealer named Earl Apfelbaum in Philadelphia. However, the term mainly remained regional until the early 2000s, with some increased use in the 1980s in other regions.

Initially, retailers resisted the name because black days of the week have historically described adverse events. A few examples include:

  • Black Monday, Oct. 19, 1987: The largest one-day drop in stock market history, when the Dow Jones index dropped 22 percent.
  • Black Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929: The stock market crash that is historically considered the start of the Great Depression.
  • Black Friday, Sept. 24, 1869: The original Black Friday was the crash of the U.S. gold market. At the time, gold was one of the primary trade markets, with investors from all income levels — most of whom went bankrupt.

To shift away from the negative association with black days of the week, retailers decided to create a new story for Black Friday. In accounting, business losses have traditionally been recorded in red ink, and profits or gains in black ink. Many retailers would find themselves "in the red" by fall but would be boosted back "into the black" by the holiday shopping season.

To create a more positive association with Black Friday, retailers used this example to explain why Black Friday is called "Black Friday." Eventually, this meaning stuck and is more well-known among shoppers than the 1950s origin of the term.

Online Shopping and Black Friday Deals

The most popular Black Friday deals often center around consumer electronics, such as TVs, computers, ​tablets, and game systems. While some shoppers are willing to wait in line for hours for a great deal, many more are opting to avoid the crowds and shop online instead.

In response, retailers now offer online shoppers many Black Friday deals that kick off simultaneously with the in-store sales. In addition, stores that provide limited-quantity door-buster discounts may also offer different door-busters exclusively for online shoppers.

The desire to avoid long lines and stampeding crowds paved the way for Cyber Monday. Cyber Monday is the Monday directly following Black Friday and is dedicated to online shoppers, with special deals available as often as every hour on some shopping sites. Many Cyber Monday deals start even earlier than Black Friday deals, so it's a good idea to shop around and check your favorite sites frequently for new sales.

Green Monday is the most recent addition to the holiday shopping season set of special deal days. It is the second Monday in December and aims to capture shoppers in stores and online who still have gifts on their list to buy.

  • What stores are open for Black Friday?

    Which stores participate in Black Friday changes each year, but typically you can expect many major retailers to open. The Black Friday website keeps a list of store hours on Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Check it in the days leading up to the big event to see who's opening and when.

  • How many days are there until Black Friday?

    Type "How many days until Black Friday?" into Google and it displays a countdown at the top of the search results.

  • What to buy on Black Friday?

    Electronics are typically the biggest draws on Black Friday, including TVs, game consoles, phones, and appliances. You can also find plenty of deals on kids' toys. If you're into footwear, Black Friday is filled with good sales on major footwear brands.

  • What stores are having Black Friday sales?

    Stores typically announce their Black Friday sales in the weeks leading up to the big shopping day. Check retailer websites to see if they're participating, or visit a site like BlackFriday.com for a list of store hours, ad scans, and more.

Was this page helpful?