Black Friday How The Madness Began

Black Friday. Savings. Spendings. Stampedes. We took a look at the not-so-humble beginnings of everybody’s favourite shopping spree day.
Jason Snyman
2017-11-23
Black Friday is my favourite trample-based experience. Thanksgiving hasn’t quite taken off in South Africa, but more and more retailers are getting on board with the hysterical shopping extravaganza that follows. Dion Chang, trend expert and founder of Flux Trends, sums it up best:
“Africa has an hour glass economy – with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class being squeezed – people are going for deals just to make ends meet. For big and small businesses, this is definitely an opportunity for them to join and leverage this trend for their brand.”
In fact, according to Google Trends, South Africa’s search interest in Black Friday this year is higher than in the USA. Contrary to popular belief, though, it’s still not the busiest shopping day of the year. That dubious honour still belongs to the Saturday just before Christmas Day. It wasn’t until the late 60’s that the term ‘Black Friday’ gained popularity in the US, and because of the misunderstood racial undertones, South African critics are yet to embrace it. It seems, though, that Black Friday, by any name, is here to stay. Welcome to Thunderdome, shoppers.  

Black Friday – The Beginning

Retailers have been pushing consumers to shop on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a long time. By the 1930’s, the day marked the beginning of the Christmas trolley-ramming season. Get your gifts now, get them while they’re cheap and get them before they’re gone forever. While it isn’t recognised as an official US holiday, many schools are closed and many employers give their staff the day off to go shopping. Unless you work in retail, that is, in which case you’re all out of luck. Better wear some comfortable shoes. And a gum guard. Retailers slowly began to realize that they could draw massive crowds by offering discounted prices. Thanks for that, Captain Obvious. Before they knew it, Black Friday had taken off, with prices slashed on everything from toys to clothing to furniture. As the day grew in popularity, retailers began to open their doors to the public as early as 5am, allowing all the shoppers who had been camping out overnight to stampede on in. It’s a scene akin to a kick-off crash in the Tour de France. People falling over one another, flailing limbs, screaming, bicycle spokes going through legs, people mowing each other down… Some of the prices they may offer on goods could bring in little to no profit at all, called loss-leaders – all in an effort to entice more customers in and get them shopping. Checkers claims to be the first retailer to have brought Black Friday to South Africa, back in 2014. The retail-giant served more than one million customers on Black Friday the following year. Checkers, Dion Wired and Pick n Pay remain the most talked about brands on the day, but the trend is predominantly driven by e-commerce players such as Takealot, Makro, Spree and Game.

What’s In The Name?

Rumours began to circulate that the term ‘Black Friday’ originated in the US with the exercise of selling off slaves on the day after Thanksgiving. According to myth busters, Snopes.com, though, this rumour is entirely false. The term didn’t originate until nearly a century after slavery was abolished. By 1961 the term ‘Black Friday’ was being used in a disdainful sense by Philadelphia police traffic squad. They, as well as bus and taxi drivers, had to deal with the absolute pandemonium caused by all the extra traffic, as hordes of shoppers headed toward the stores over the two days following Thanksgiving. Another widespread explanation is that ‘Black Friday’ is a term used to signify the day most retailers finally begin to show a profit. In accounting terms, this would mean moving from in the red to in the black. Red ink, of course, indicates debt. This explanation was likely invented by retailers themselves, in order to avoid the negative connotations associated with the day, thanks to Philadelphia. The earliest known use of the term, related to accounting, dates from 1981. This means the first use of the term is indeed credited to the Philadelphia police department.
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Avoid Being Trampled

For those who would rather avoid the madness and emotional turmoil that is Black Friday shopping, there’s always e-commerce, or Cyber Monday. Many great deals extend all the way through the weekend, or even the week, and can be obtained from the safety of your couch at home. For stores who don’t participate in Black Friday, they often offer exclusive Cyber Monday deals instead. For different categories, of course, both are great days to shop. Shopping from home for specials isn’t a sure bet, though. Deals appear and disappear all day, sometimes within minutes. Websites crash, overwhelmed by the thousands of visitors. You may spend all day tethered to your laptop, wondering if the site you’re shopping on is updating their stock on time. By the time you check out, those items may be gone. The best way to avoid being tramples? Stay inside and do your shopping through Takealot, Loot, Amazon, Spree or any number of other great online stores. If, however, you’re absolutely compelled to go out and brave the malls…

How To Survive A Stampede

Malls and stores often have narrow, single points of exit and entry. These aren’t ideal for survival in stampede conditions. It’s important to make a mental not of your surroundings. Needless to say, it’s not ideal to take small children along to do some shopping. If the worst were to occur:
  • Stay on your feet and keep moving;
  • Don't push against the crowd. Move along with it, but diagonally between pockets of people;
  • Use sign language to communicate with those around you;
  • Keep your hands up by your chest. Just like a boxer. This gives you movement and protects your chest;
  • Remain calm. Do not scream or shout;
  • Stay away from walls, fences or barricades;
  • If somebody goes down, extend your hand and help them up. These moments call for compassion and heroism;
  • If you go down, get up quickly. If you can’t, cover your head with your arms and assume the fetal position. Do not roll over onto your back or belly.
There have been instances, in South Africa and worldwide, where feverish spending has gotten out of hand. Black Friday shopping causes thousands of injuries every year and there’s even a Black Friday Death Count website. And on that cheerful note, do you have insurance?