(CNN Business) — Maybe you or someone you know is getting ready to shop on Black Friday or Black Friday.
The unofficial start of the holiday season has been transformed into a day for retailers to help attract shoppers to their stores. It’s almost a tradition in America, but despite common perception, the name has nothing to do with red or black ink on a merchant’s balance sheet.
Black Friday began in Philadelphia in the 1950s.
According to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina, dozens of suburban shoppers flock to the city after Thanksgiving. The city was thrown into massive sales and decorations ahead of Saturday’s Army-Navy football game.
“It’s a double whammy” Taylor-Blake told CNN. “Traffic cops had to work 12-hour shifts, no one could leave, and people flooded the sidewalks, parking lots and streets. The police had to deal with all that and coined the term.
Merchants in the city also started using the term to describe long queues and shopping chaos at their shops. “It became this comic reference to downtown Philly after Thanksgiving.”
In 1961, an idea was proposed to change the name of the holiday to “Great Friday” (Big Friday), so that one of the biggest days for shopping would not have a negative connotation. But it did not succeed.
Over time, retailers learned to embrace the name and extended the one-day shopping event.
In 2003, retailers increased store opening hours. That year, Kmart, Walmart and Sears offered pre-dawn discounts starting at 5 or 6 a.m. That same year, Black Friday became the most profitable shopping day of the year, according to data from the International Council of Malls. Prior to 2003, the most profitable shopping days in the US were late December.
In 2011, Walmart extended business hours again, when its stores opened at 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving and stayed open until Black Friday.
With the popularity of the Internet, another shopping day was born in 2005: Cyber Monday. It’s a marketing term coined by the National Retail Federation to reflect the observance of Black Friday shopping frenzy. Cyber Monday has exploded in popularity ever since.
Shoppers said sales and discounts were the most important factor in choosing a store, followed by free shipping and convenient location.
Kathryn Vassal contributed to this story. Originally published in November 2018 and updated in November 2022.