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Black Friday: the Psychology Behind its History

Dennis Francis
5 min readNov 20, 2023

I’m not much of a shopper, and I certainly don’t support or encourage the kind of madness that occurs in stores across the United States on the day after Thanksgiving. As a marketer and someone who is interested in human behavior, however, this is one of the most exciting periods of the year.

Black Friday’s history is far more colorful and complex than most of us realize. It’s a story woven from threads of fact, fiction, and urban legend. So, let’s unravel this tapestry and see what’s hidden in the folds!

The 1980s Retail Shift

The term “Black Friday” really came into its own in the 1980s. It marked the transformation of retailers’ ledgers from red (losses) to black (profits), all thanks to the shopping frenzy post-Thanksgiving. It was like the ultimate comeback story for businesses every year, flipping the script from gloom to boom!

Chaos in Philadelphia

Rewind to the 1950s and 1960s in Philadelphia, and you’ll find a different shade of Black Friday. It was police slang for the day after Thanksgiving, which was anything but a holiday for them. Imagine crowds of shoppers and tourists swarming into the city, adding to the usual frenzy of the Army-Navy football game. Talk about a logistical nightmare!

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Dennis Francis

Retired content marketing consultant. Author, artist, husband, father and owner of ContentMarketingMagic.co. Still helping small business owners daily.