Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become one of the cult events of the year, attracting millions of consumers both physically to stores and many more online as they fight to the death (literally) to get their hands on discounted products.
These events have gained a large popular following, and are most times regarded as one of the busiest periods of the retail business that serve to be a core of the industry’s so-called Golden Quarter; or, as it’s increasingly known, ‘Christmas Creep’. A time when families and other consumers gang up for a massive shopping spree.
Over the years, the Black Friday and Cyber Monday tradition has continued to grow in popularity and recently both events started to merge into a single weekend of discount deals. The same can be said for other shopping events like China’s huge Single’s Day shop-fest, which attracted millions.
As the world continues to fight back against the Coronavirus pandemic, it has been made evident that online shopping, more so e-commerce is a crucial factor in today’s business. Online sales are overtaking footfall sales (number of people entering stores), and 2020 has proven e-commerce to be an effective way to drive sales forward around the world.
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, in 2018, the e-commerce colossus, Amazon, broke its sales records for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Moreover, Cyber Monday sales across retailers hit an estimated $7.9 billion in the same year, making it the biggest shopping day to date.
So, the question is, how did these two events start, and how did they evolve to become one of the biggest sales-driving promotions of the retail world? In this article, we are going to take a look at the history of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Where did the term Black Friday originate from?
Well, to make things clear, ‘Black Friday’ as a term was first used or recorded 145 years ago in New York, and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with Christmas shopping. It all began with the story of two investors named Jay Gould and Jim Fisk who were president and vice president of the Erie Railroad and had a reputation as two of Wall Street’s most ruthless financial masterminds.
On Friday 24 September 1869, a months-long plot to rig the gold market came to a head. Gould and Fisk had been driving up the price of gold for weeks, buying up huge reserves of the precious metal, then one day, when President Ulysses Grant found out about the scam, he flooded the market with gold causing a colossal stock market crash.
This day became known as “Black Friday” because the effects were felt in the US economy for years. Thousands of speculators were left financially ruined and at least one committed suicide. Foreign trade ground to a halt while it’s believed that farmers may have been the hardest hit, with many seeing the value of their wheat and corn harvests dip by 50 per cent.
Even though the story is a sad one, what turned Black Friday into the shopping event we have come to know today is something else entirely, and it all began in the 1950s.
How Black Friday turned out into a shopping event
It was during the 1950s in Philadelphia when masses of people would storm the city the day after Thanksgiving and fit in some shopping to coincide with the big Army-Navy football game. However, the police force of that city began to refer to the day as ‘Black Friday’ due to the huge traffic, shoplifting and general mayhem that resulted out of it.
The term Black Friday was first used in print in the late 1960s but it was only in the 1980s that US retailers saw its potential. When they brought the name back in, it was in deliberate reference to “being in the black” after a year of poor profits (or “in the red”).
When brick-and-mortar stores started to see the benefits from the shopping event, and how online shopping was becoming a much-needed aspect for business, large US retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target started to rip huge profits out of it.
It was from this realization that retailers eventually ended up having both Black Friday and Cyber Monday turning into one single weekend of shopping, with large numbers of people lined up at stores, while others took their chances at online retailing.
In 2014, spending volume on Black Friday fell for the first time since the 2008 recession. $50.9 billion was spent during the four-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from the previous year. However, the U.S. economy was not in a recession.
Christmas creep has been cited as a factor in the diminishing importance of Black Friday, as many retailers now spread out their promotions over the entire months of November and December rather than concentrate them on a single shopping day or weekend.
None the less, though the term Black Friday has a negative history behind it, there have been efforts by retailers to try and change it into something more positive, like “Big Friday” in attempts to attract a more favourable public opinion of the event, but it never caught on.
There have also been concerns that this year’s Black Friday may not go ahead as planned in certain regions of the world due to the ongoing pandemic. The popular bargain day is always set for the fourth Friday in November the day after Thanksgiving in the United States.
How about Cyber Monday?
Cyber Monday took off in 2005 when shop.org’s founder noticed a huge 77% spike in online sales after Black Friday. It also became a popular term as most retailers noticed a huge influx of sales days after thanksgiving.
The term “Cyber Monday” started getting used in 2005 by the National Retail Federation (NRF), which needed a name for the large numbers of online sales the Monday after Thanksgiving. In a press release that debuted the term “Cyber Monday,” the NRF credited faster internet connections at work and online retailers wanting to attract holiday shoppers as the impetus behind this new trend.
Simply put, online merchants wanted a piece of the cake, which brick-and-mortar stores enjoyed during Black Friday. Given the fact that many consumers were more than happy to shop from the comfort of their work desks instead of standing in line in the cold outside Walmart, they quickly jumped on board leading to Cyber Monday’s popularity later on.
Cyber Monday is now a decade old and has gone ahead to become a popular shopping event which started as an online counterpoint to the brick-and-mortar-heavy Black Friday. The event itself offers a similar experience as the former, and also allows for deal-hunters to have more convenient shopping options.
The ongoing debate of whether Cyber Monday still stands alone as a singular event from Black Friday is still up for discussion. More and more retailers, even consumers are beginning to group the two shopping events given the fact that they are just days apart from each other, and it’s nearly the same experience.
With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the two days are expected to be even less differentiated since many shoppers will be pushed online to avoid spreading the coronavirus that has claimed thousands of lives this year alone.
Apart from that, after a few long months under quarantine and lockdown, shoppers have adapted to the online shopping experience much faster than many expected, and for a very good reason.
Think about it, would you rather spend hours out in the cold or in a long line waiting to buy that discounted item as opposed to just ordering it online in the comfort of your home? There is also the benefit from pre-Christmas deals.
The move made by Amazon in 2019 to speed up its delivery times even further is an indication of how shoppers prefer the convenience of shopping online. The initiative alone was expected to cost them $1.5 billion in the last quarter of that year.
A global phenomenon
One thing we can all agree on is that e-commerce or online shopping has taken the world by storm. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have made their way into other parts of the world over the last decade, becoming especially popular in Italy, France, South Africa and Japan too.
China has also shown promising results with many of its citizens taking part in the festive season shopping spree and other forms of discounted events that take place across the year. In 2019, China’s phenomenal Singles’ Day saw over $38 billion in sales in just over 24 hours beating the $23 billion earned by the top US e-commerce companies over the four days in 2018.
According to a 2019 IPSOS report, global sales were on average 6.6 times higher than a regular Friday, with Pakistan leading the way, at 115 times regular spend. It’s worth noting that Pakistan and some other Islamic countries have considered terming it White Friday or Blessed Friday, to avoid referring to the holy day of Friday as ‘black’.
It is easy to see how Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other popular shopping events have quickly spread worldwide. Mobile and e-commerce technologies continue to become more widely adopted and demanded by the day.
Regions like Africa have joined the changing tide as well, since retailers such as Jumia, which is headquartered in Nigeria and operating in over 12 countries, is beginning to offer stiff competition to the global movers like Amazon. In Uganda, we have Jiji (formerly OLX) and other platforms like Glovo fighting for a piece of the market.
Author: Allan Bangirana
Allan Bangirana has a taste for all kinds of topics and usually writes about tech, entertainment, sports and community projects that make a difference in society.