Holiday Sales: Then & Now

Holiday Sales: Then & Now

Whether you like it or not, the holiday season is upon us and that means sales, sales, sales! From Thanksgiving until Christmas, the season is crucial for retailers, where in the US alone, around 30% of annual retail sales occur between Black Friday and Christmas.

But what is the origin of the holiday sales, and where did the name Black Friday come from?

Celebrating the holiday season with commercial retail sales dates back to the late 19th century when Christmas gifts started to become more manufactured as more Americans moved to big cities. Before that, most gifts were handmade.  

At the turn of the century in 1906, there was a campaign led by the U.S. Consumer’s League to encourage shoppers to do their holiday shopping earlier. There had been many factory and shop workers who were overworked, so in order to lighten the load during the holiday rush leadng up to Christmas, a  “Shop Early Campaign” was created.  

A 1918 advertising campaign to encourage Americans to go early to stores already in November to shop for Christmas gifts. (image credit: State Historical Society of North Dakota,

(A 1918 advertising campaign to encourage Americans to go early to stores already in November to shop for Christmas gifts.Photo Credit: State Historical Society of North Dakota.)

So, when did Black Friday make an appearance?

It’s most likely the term was first used in the early 1960s by Philadelphia Police officers who were forced to work extra-long shifts to deal with the masses of shoppers flocking the city the day after Thanksgiving, calling it a “Black Friday”.  

A few decades later, another rumor spread that Black Friday referred to retailers getting out of minus and into profits. Until November, a retailer’s balance sheets had been operating at a loss “in the red”, and the sales commencing on the fourth Friday of November could count as the day that put them “in the black” and profitable for the year. This reference started appearing in the 1980s and was most likely a way to rebrand Black Friday in a positive way. 

Since then, retailers have continued to offer holiday promotions to encourage high amount of sales. In 2017 it’s estimated that each shopper in the US will spend $967.13 during the holiday season for gifts alone. 

So, what is the future for Black Friday and the holiday sales season?  

According to some, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is starting to become irrelevant as consumers are generally accustomed to be getting deals throughout the year. Companies hold mid-season sales, weekend sales, and more, both online and in-store.  

Technology is also playing a larger role. Both online shopping and mobile sales are continuing to escalate and more people can start their holiday shopping even earlier. Furthermore, retailers are also looking to new ways to engage with customers for more sales.  

Holiday season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday will continue to grow – both in the US and worldwide. What will change is how retailers look at promoting additional sales and adopt technology to do so through ways such as mass customization, artificial intelligence & chatbots, immersive shopping, and more.  

The future of retail is here. Are you on board? 

Dana Soffer

Dana Soffer

Director, Corporate Marketing
Dana has over 15 years experience in international marketing and communications for leading global B2B and B2C companies. She currently develops and executives corporate marketing communication strategies, builds brand identity and manages public relation efforts. Dana has a BA in Human Behavior & Marketing from Colman College of Management.