(CNN Business) — Chances are you or someone you know is getting ready to shop on Black Friday.
The informal start to the holiday season has transformed into a day that helps retailers attract shoppers to their stores. It’s almost a tradition in the United States, but despite common perception, the name has nothing to do with the red or black ink on merchants’ balance sheets.
Black Friday began in the 1950s in Philadelphia.
Dozens of suburban shoppers came to town in the days after Thanksgiving, according to Bonnie Taylor-Blake, a neuroscience researcher at the University of North Carolina. The city pushed for big sales and decorations, ahead of a football game between the Army and the Navy, which took place on Saturday.
“It was a double whammy,” Taylor-Blake told CNN. “Traffic cops were required 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.”
The city’s merchants also began using the term to describe the long lines and shopping chaos in their stores. “It became this comedic reference to downtown Philadelphia after Thanksgiving.”
In 1961, the idea was proposed to change the name of the holiday to “Big Friday” so that one of the biggest days in shopping would not have a negative connotation. But that was not successful.
Over time, retailers learned to adopt the name and even extended the one-day shopping event.
Around 2003, retailers increased store opening hours. That year, Kmart, Walmart and Sears offered pre-dawn discounts starting at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. That was the same year that Black Friday became the most profitable shopping day of the year, according to data from the International Council of Malls. Before 2003, the most profitable shopping days in the US were late December.
In 2011, Walmart extended its business hours again when it opened its stores at 10 pm on Thanksgiving night and remained open until Black Friday.
With the popularity of the Internet, another shopping day was born in 2005: Cyber Monday. It was a marketing term from the National Retail Federation to reflect the shopping craze that brick-and-mortar stores feel on Black Friday. Cyber Monday has exploded in fame since then.
Shoppers have said deals and discounts are the most important factor in store choice, followed by free shipping and a convenient location.
Kathryn Vasel contributed to this story. Originally published in November 2018 and updated in November 2023.