Almost everyone is familiar as to what significance this day holds every year. For almost as long as I can remember, the day after Thanksgiving was an epic shopper’s wet dream. Whether you were in Boston and heading over to Filene’s Basement or hunkered down in line in Nashville at Wal-Mart at 11:59 p.m., Black Friday was always a time for spending money and going outside your normal shopping patterns for some great deals and a few bruises.
But where did Black Friday get its start? Has it always been about the shopper and their epic quest for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, or does it have more humble beginnings?
Let’s explore that really quickly.
It’s Okay, I’ve Got A Lot of Black Friends
The exact organization of origin for the term “Black Friday” is a little contested, but almost all scholars agree that no matter if it came from employees, police officers, accountants or public transit drivers, the term “Black Friday” was born in Philadelphia.
The two major theories are as follows (and for the record, I believe they both happened simultaneously and both have merit in the history of the term):
- During the 1960s, police officers and public transit workers were documented by a PR firm and local new outlets for internally referring to the day after Thanksgiving (i.e. the first day of the Christmas shopping season when many retailers list items at a discount) as Black Friday because of all the traffic jams and violent outbursts at stores.
- During the 1960s, again in Philadelphia, retail accountants began using the term Black Friday to refer to the first day of the year in which they got to use the black pen for the company books, considering almost all retail establishments operate in the red until the Christmas shopping season.
*Both options are equally viable, considering they are both historically attempting to redefine the term from its actual origin of referring to the American financial crisis of 1869.
As I said earlier, I totally believe the possibility of the term circulating within the ranks of the Philadelphia police and transit employees, but this is a blog about geared towards businesses, so let’s look at that one a bit more.
Black Friday refers to the day in which almost all retailers and box stores display huge discounts to their merchandise in order to give their company the needed boost starting the holiday shopping season to finally operate in the black and make a profit for the year.
I can’t help but wonder at the first company who decided to mark down their high-value items 40, 50 and 75%. It couldn’t have been easy. For an industry known over the last batch of decades as being extremely narrow-minded and self-serving, to discount their top sellers in hopes that enough shoppers will come by to justify the price is a very dangerous move. I’m sure that many executives were laughed out of conference rooms and board meetings before a company decided to actually run with the idea.
We take it for granted now, but in the beginning stages, making a jump like that would have seemed like financial murder.
We are in a similar transition right now.
The times and economies are calling for businesses to change and make a different kind of leap. To make the leap to tearing downs walls and restructuring silos and complete transparency. Times are calling for businesses to step out from behind the masks of corporate identity created over decades and actually presenting an identity people can believe in and interact with.
And this change is even scarier than the one from the 1950s and 60s. Retailers only took a leap one day of the year and if they didn’t succeed, no big deal, they’d just work extra hard to justify the experiment during Christmas. But, for Social Businesses, this is a 365-day-a-year leap and there’s no looking back.
Years from now, we’ll look back at this transition and our grandchildren will wonder what all the fuss was about because businesses will be booming and growing alongside their customers, but right now it takes those pioneers and those dreamers to get the ball rolling.
Are you one of them?
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