Black Friday hits the UK, but what is it?

The celebration of consumerism kicks off tomorrow in the US and is bigger than ever, with British retailers planning to import it to the UK

It sounds sinister, and it's even caused deaths in the past, but why do Americans get so excited about Black Friday and how did it get started?

What is it?

Traditionally, Black Friday marks the beginning of the frenzied Christmas shopping season in the US. Although the actual date is different every year, it’s always the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving – this year, it will be November 29.

With retailers across the country slashing their prices, it’s the busiest shopping day of the year. Hordes of shoppers invade their favourite stores, desperate to make the most of the seemingly impossible deals.

Initially, the sales began early on the Friday, with most retailers opening their doors at around six in the morning. But as the years passed, retailers started to open earlier and earlier. First it was pushed back to five in the morning, then to four, and then to all the way back to Thanksgiving Day itself. In recent times, the concept of the Black Friday sales being confined to just one day has been all but abandoned.

Why is it called Black Friday?

The Philadelphia police force coined the term in the 1960s. They were referring to the same day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, which even back then saw a mass of ravenous shoppers descend upon the area. Pedestrians and motorists caused a great deal of congestion, much to the dismay of the police, which led to the “Black Friday” labelling.

An alternative reason relates to accounting. As would be expected, the onslaught of customers leads to a considerable hike in retailers’ revenue (over $59 billion was spent across the four-day weekend last year). It is therefore said that the period propels retailers to move “out of the red” and “into the black”. Thus, Black Friday.

Who gets involved?

Who doesn’t. According to the National Retail Federation, up to 140 million people across America will descend en masse on retailers during the weekend and, understandably, there are few shops who would be willing to miss out on such an opportunity. The marketing push from the big firms is monumental – many start the campaign weeks in advance.

The phenomenon is also spreading to the UK. Admittedly, the British version isn’t exactly a mirror image of its American counterpart, but there have been major retailers, including Asda and Amazon, looking to make Black Friday a fixture on the UK’s shopping calendar.

However, the excitement does occasionally boil over into something decidedly more sinister. In America, there have been outbreaks of violence in the past, including shootings, stabbings, fighting and trampling. In 2008, a Walmart employee was fatally injured in a stampede at a store in New York. It’s the most extreme case, but does show how the blind rush for bargains can have tragic consequences.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot