We all think of Black Friday as one of the biggest shopping days of the year for sales, but the real origin behind it is a little different. Adding to that history is the question of what Black Friday 2020 will look like, and will this year’s pandemic change it forever.
Origin of Black Friday
Many people believe that the term “Black Friday” referred to the overwhelming retail sales that take place on the Friday after Thanksgiving, often putting retailers that spent most of their year operating “in the red” to operating “in the black” with just one day of stellar sales. However, the term “Black Friday” was originally coined during a financial crisis in 1869 and had nothing to do with Thanksgiving or shopping.
Then, in the 1950s, Philadelphia police coined the term to describe the chaos that ensued when suburban shoppers would descend on the city the day after Thanksgiving to shop, making the job of law enforcement long and arduous on that particular Friday. Over the years, retailers tried to change the name to “Big Friday” to alleviate any negative connotations, but Black Friday stuck and is still around today.
But, like all things in 2020, it will most likely look a little different this year — and could change how the day operates forever.
Black Friday 2020
Social distancing will change the landscape of Black Friday. That’s not surprising. Katherine Cullen, Senior Director of Industry and Consumer Insights at the National Retail Federation, tells Parentology that Black Friday is an ever-changing tradition.
“In the last couple of years, we have seen Black Friday and Thanksgiving really evolving in terms of the role they play in the holiday season,” Cullen says. She anticipates that this year stores will be encouraging services like curbside or in-store pick-up as well as encouraging shoppers to buy online. “Crowded stores on Black Friday or Thanksgiving weekend with people lined up and ready to rush in — that’s not really realistic given the situation going on this year.”
Major retailers like Walmart and Target have already decided to stay closed on Thanksgiving rather than offering early-bird deals. Likewise, the National Retail Federation has even created a public campaign urging shoppers to embrace new and different ways of holiday shopping.
“We’re seeing a lot of messaging from retailers themselves that you don’t need to rush into the stores, that you can find great deals throughout the season,” Cullen says. To that end, the National Retail Federation launched the New Holiday Traditions campaign to encourage people to shop early, safely, and avoid the stress of last-minute shopping.
The overall message? You don’t have to wait until Black Friday to get a great deal and you don’t have to shop in person to save money.
Is Black Friday Gone Forever?
Will this year change the face of holiday shopping as we know it for good? Cullen doesn’t think so.
“There is something, particularly during the holidays, that I think people miss,” she says. “There is this element of in-store shopping that I think people miss and will likely want to return to.”
Even during the pandemic, Cullen cites that while online transactions are certainly on the rise, the majority of retail is still taking place in a physical environment, proving that consumers are still very interested in an in-store experience.
And are retailers worried that COVID-19 will curb the traditional spike in sales? Cullen says the past few months have proven very positive.
“We’ve actually seen, since June, retails sales for the industry have been up both month-over-month and year-over-year,” she explains. “While there is still a lot of uncertainty, people are feeling more comfortable spending on discretionary categories.”
It’s true that consumers and retailers will have to re-imagine traditional holiday shopping, but Cullen is hopeful that enough options allow shoppers to check off their shopping lists safely and still feel festive.
“The signals are positive that both consumers and retailers are in a good place toward the end of the year.”