The history of Black Friday: how did it start?

Last Updated 13 Nov, 2023

Imagine it’s Black Friday. You go to work and sleepily open your inbox like any normal day. But instead of getting cracking with your next project you open a new tab for each of your favourite retailers and get stuck into the Black Friday madness. While the internal excitement reaches full capacity with every epic deal you bag, none of your colleagues would suspect a thing.

But Black Friday wasn’t always this docile. In fact, it was only a couple of years ago that eager shoppers would wake up at the crack of dawn and make their way to the nearest shopping centre. They’d wait in line in the freezing cold ready to clamber over each other for that discounted Blaupunkt television. All seems a bit stressful, right?

Where did the term ‘Black Friday’ come from?

Looking further back in time, there are differing stories as to how the shopping phenomenon actually began. One popular explanation states that the name Black Friday refers to the chaotic traffic and crowds in Philadelphia after Thanksgiving in the 60s.

Fast forward twenty years to the 80s, and the term became more widespread but had taken on a completely different meaning. People began to believe that the ‘black’ referred to the day that retailers made enough profit to take them out of the red and into the black in their accounts.

Black Friday in the U.K.

Synonymous with the start of department store Christmas festivities and parades in the United States, it's fair to say that Black Friday in the US is still huge, with plenty of deals at top US brands. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the term made its way overseas to the U.K. Despite attempts from American-based Amazon and the like, it wasn’t until Asda (owned by American giant Walmart) introduced their ‘Walmart’s Black Friday by Asda’ campaign that it stuck...kind of.

The following year in 2014, retails stalwarts like Argos, Very and John Lewis jumped on the bandwagon and began enticing shoppers with exciting pre-Christmas discounts. During the sale period, shops were being bombarded with keen shoppers hungry for the best deals, and it wasn’t uncommon for police and security guards to get involved.

Moving online

It wasn’t until 2016 that the Black Friday sale event started taking place mostly online rather than in physical bricks and mortar stores. Total online spending on online retail sites reached £1.23billion in just 24 hours - a 12% increase on 2015’s online spending figures.

In 2017, Black Friday sales meant that for the first time in history, November’s spending overtook December’s usual Christmas frenzy. From 2018 onwards, almost every retailer gets involved in one way or another. After a slump during the pandemic lockdown in 2020, growth returned in 2021 with around £9.42 billion spent during the record-breaking period. The U.K. also accounted for over 10 percent of all global Black Friday searches online.

In 2022, the Black Friday trend continued to evolve, focusing on sustainability and conscious consumerism. Many retailers introduced eco-friendly deals and initiatives, reflecting shoppers' growing awareness of environmental issues. For example, The Ordinary's 'All Month Long' sale as opposed to one Black Friday sale. The week-long spectacular of different deals each day gained even more traction, offering consumers an extended period to snag incredible bargains.

Looking ahead to 2023, the Black Friday landscape is expected to integrate technology into the shopping experience further. With advancements in augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI), virtual try-ons and personalised shopping experiences will likely become more prevalent, providing consumers with innovative ways to explore and purchase products.

What does the future of Black Friday hold?

With the boom in online shopping in recent years, it’s interesting to think about what Black Friday and other similar sales events might look like in the next five or ten years. From same-day drone delivery to virtual shopping experiences, it seems we’re on the brink of weaving the latest innovative artificial intelligence and technology into our daily shopping habits very soon.