Black Friday is marketed as retail’s busiest and most profitable day of the year. But, is it really? Here’s what you need to know.

Photo: Heidi Fin

The Truth About Black Friday

What Is Black Friday?

The day after the US Thanksgiving (which is on a Thursday) is now considered to be the biggest shopping day of the year. But, it wasn’t always like this and it may not actually be as profitable as retailers market it to be. Here’s why.

What Is The History?

Black Friday as we know it today, wasn’t popularized until the 1960s. Here’s a fascinating brief history.

Black Friday Isn’t Named After The Money Made Every Year

The history of Black Friday and its name originated in the 1950s and was popularized in the 60s. this term was first used in Philadelphia, to explain the chaos that happened one day every year. The day after Thanksgiving was named ‘Black Friday’ by Philadelphians because police officers used this as a way to describe the state of the city as cars from the suburbs drove in, leaving the air black. Believe it or not, if we go back even further, this day (unnamed) is believed to have also been linked to a stock market crash related to gold.

How Black Friday Originated In Philadelphia

It’s recorded in history that Philadelphia police battled the large crowds of those coming into the city to do their holiday shopping. In addition to the smoke and emissions darkening the air, long lines—of people and cars—plus an increase in job-related stress played into the naming of this day.

How Did The Name Catch On?

Outside of Philly, the name caught on by the 1980s. Marketing campaigns were launched across America which influenced the public to believe that the name was created as a way to describe a business’ profit increasing — going from negative or low funds “in the red” (bookkeeping reference) to “black” which indicates (also in bookkeeping) positive funds.

Why Do People Shop Black Friday?

As alluded to in the 80s, this was seen as retail’s biggest day of the year and the opportunity for stores to go from “in the red” to black. Over the decades to the way we currently engage with Black Friday, people choose to shop the day after Thanksgiving because stores market and promote the biggest deals. They promise consumers the lowest prices the store will offer throughout the year. Stores/brands show marked-down prices on items and offer bundles of products, deals, or other perks to incentivize shoppers.

Photo: freestocks 

The Truth About The Day After Thanksgiving

Black Friday isn’t the cheapest day of the year. Many brands are lying or pushing the same deals with different wording and marketing from other yearly sales or campaigns.

1. Brands Aren’t Actually Providing The Best Deal

I know what you’re thinking. The price tags, ads, and marketing campaigns are a lie. The items may cost less to purchase, but it’s not cheaper. Here’s what I mean by that.

99.5% Of Black Friday sales aren’t cheaper

An investigation found that 95% of the time, there are other periods throughout the year where items are the same price or available for cheaper than what’s marketed on Black Friday. That means the “Black Friday Exclusive” or “Black Friday Only” deals are not true and run during other months.

92% Of sales are the same price as before Black Friday

The same investigation found that stores offer the same products that they mark “on-sale” for Black Friday at the same price 6-months before the day after the Thanksgiving sale.

98.5% Of products are the same price after Black Friday

Another shocking statistic in the investigation reveals that 98.5—nearly all Black Friday sales—offer products that are the same price six months after the big shopping day.

2. Cost of Production

The amount of money it takes to make an item doesn’t typically change for Black Friday. The supplies, workers, shipping, etc. remain at the same price. If anything, the markdowns showcase how much profit is typically made from an item and how little may be made by those working the supply chain process, on retail floors, and more. Seasonal employees specifically shared how stressful and underpaid the day after Thanksgiving sales are.

Why Is The Day After Thanksgiving Bad For The Environment?

The United States has the world’s second-largest environmental footprint (that’s not a good thing). In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported Americans generate 292.4 tonnes of trash and 146.1 tonnes that end up in landfill each year. Considering the high amount of waste and how this seems. to be hand-in-hand with the country’s culture, it’s not surprising that the “biggest sale of the year” will contribute to waste and landfill.

Photo: Sangga Rima Roman Selia

1. It Contributes To Waste

In addition to businesses not creating products/offering environmentally beneficial or considerate services, this annual shopping day creates a frenzy by playing on people’s fears and often speaking negatively or dangling the consequences of missing out on buying something would be like. For example, separating someone from being able to relate to their friends, community, or society. Never being able to get the items again, wasting money, and many more fear-based narratives.

Fear-based purchasing leads to buying things that aren’t really needed and that won’t be used. This also leads to higher return rates.

2. It Leads To Higher Return Rates

Return rates are a major issue with current debates and systems ongoing to attempt reduction. In fact, 30-40% of online purchases are returned in the US. When items are returned, a large portion of the products ends up in landfill instead of being reused or resold. In fact, 2.6 million tons of US returns ended up in landfill. For a country that already battles a waste issue, this only contributes to the problem.

3. It Encourages Pushing Personal Financial Boundaries

For the day mass-promoted as the biggest sale of the year, financial methods such as taking out an extra line of credit, opening a store credit card, or using buy now pay later methods are pushed.

4. It Contributes To Funding Fossil Fuels & Organizations That Harm The Planet

Speaking of financial health, the relation of investment/profit/finance, in general, relates to the environment because many organizations invest in fossil fuels or other methods that negatively impact and harm the planet. For example, the fast fashion industry and every single business that does not actively prioritize the environment and sustainability practices.

Photo: micheile

What If You Can’t Avoid Shopping? Here are 3 Things To Consider

1. Only Buy What You Need

Of course, there are times when shopping the sales are actually incredibly beneficial—especially when on a limited or tight budget and an item absolutely needs to be purchased. In this case, it’s best to keep a list of what is needed and pay attention to when the prices throughout the year actually drop.

2. Try To Shop From Ethical & Environmental Brands

Make sure the brands you’re shopping for prioritize ethics and the environment. Here are some things to look out for and how to understand a brand or organization’s sustainability.

3. Consider What You Can Find Second Hand

A great alternative is to shop secondhand. Reselling apps such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Depop, and other clothing-selling platforms are great ways to give new items a second life. Local antique stores, vintage markets, and resale shops may also provide unique treasures that aren’t made anymore or are easy to find. Above all, shopping all of these options will lower the buyer’s spending cost and help keep items out of landfills.

You Might Also Enjoy:

Leave a Reply