What Is Black Friday?

Black Friday Explained

Image shows the origins of the name "Black Friday" including the name originates in reference to the volume of shoppers that created traffic accidents and sometimes even violence. As one of the more profitable retail days of the year, Black Friday began to take on a positive connotation. Retailers now offer deep discounts only available on that day.
Photo:

Chloe Giroux © The Balance

Definition

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving. During this annual shopping holiday, retailers typically offer steep discounts to kick off the holiday season.

Key Takeaways

  • Black Friday is not an official holiday but falls on the date after Thanksgiving. Some people spend the day finding discounts from retailers to kick off the holiday shopping season.
  • It's a critical day for the retail sector, as the holiday season can account for 20% or more of annual sales for many retailers. 
  • Other financial "holidays" have also sprung up around this time, including Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday.

How Does Black Friday Work?

Black Friday is part of the holiday shopping season. Having a profitable Black Friday is essential for many retailers, especially toy and game stores. From 2017 to 2021, the holiday season amounted to about 19% of annual sales for many retailers, according to the NRF.

Many retailers open late Thanksgiving Day or early Friday morning. Some shoppers wait in line to get the best deals and shopping continues throughout the weekend.

In 2021, for example, shoppers spent an average of $301.27 from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday (the first Monday after Thanksgiving).

Note

The best Black Friday deals are, surprisingly, not on Black Friday. Many retailers, including Amazon, offer sales earlier and earlier, upstaging Black Friday itself. The competition has gotten so fierce that stores have innovated new ways to get your dollar, sometimes starting much earlier in the year.

Examples of Black Friday

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated 179.8 million unique shoppers made in-store and online purchases during the 2021 Thanksgiving weekend, exceeding NRF’s initial expectations by more than 21 million.

Spending on Black Friday is likely to be high again this year, despite inflation, according to the NRF. They predict all holiday spending will be up 6% to 8% over last year, an early sign that the day after Thanksgiving could have a large economic impact.

Note

The NRF found that 46% of holiday shoppers had started shopping before November, with a majority of those saying they started early to spread out their spending.

The NRF found that the three most popular toys to buy in 2021 were LEGO, Barbie, cars and trucks, and dolls. Consumers indicated the top items they planned to buy for gifts were clothing, gift cards, and toys. The NRF found that shoppers planned to buy three to four gift cards, spending an average of $147 to $196, with total sales expected to reach $28.1 billion in 2021.

Why Is It Called Black Friday?

Black Friday is an informal name used to describe the day after Thanksgiving. It's often the busiest shopping day of the year because it kicks off the holiday season. This day can be crucial for the economy, especially for certain retailers.

The term "Black Friday" has its roots in the middle of the 20th century. Police in Philadelphia initially used the term "Black Friday" to refer to heavy, disruptive traffic on the day after Thanksgiving.

The term spread and businesses latched onto it. It worked well for retail businesses that depended on holiday shopping to put their finances "in the black" (earning profit) rather than "in the red" (operating at a loss).

Historical Black Friday Spending Data

We gathered nearly 20 years of holiday sales data from the NRF and found that the average annual increase in Black Friday spending has been 3.5%. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the average annual increase was 4.8%.

Year Spent per Shopper Total Spent Percent Increase
2002 N/A $416.40 billion 2.1%
2003 N/A $437.60 billion 5.1%
2004 N/A $467.20 billion 6.8%
2005 $734.69 $496.00 billion 6.2%
2006 $750.70 $512.10 billion 3.2%
2007 $755.13 $526.00 billion 2.7%
2008 $694.19 $501.50 billion -4.7%
2009 $681.83 $502.67 billion 0.2%
2010 $718.98 $528.77 billion 5.2%
2011 $740.57 $553.26 billion 4.6%
2012 $752.24 $567.65 billion 2.6%
2013 $767.24 $583.52 billion 2.8%
2014 $802.45 $611.52 billion 4.8%
2015 $805.65 $628.17 billion 2.7%
2016 $935.58 $646.72 billion 3.0%
2017 $967.13 $679.24 billion 5.0%
2018 $1,007.24 $691.48 billion 1.8%
2019 $1,047.83 $718.64 billion 3.9%
2020 $997.79 $777.35 billion 8.2%
2021 N/A $886.7 billion 14.1%

Black Friday vs. Cyber Monday

The Monday following the weekend after Black Friday is known as "Cyber Monday," when many people buy gifts online, and it has become a shopping event in itself. It's typically the biggest online shopping day of the year, and in some years it has surpassed Black Friday in terms of total sales.

Black Friday
  • Refers to the day after Thanksgiving

  • Focused on sales in brick-and-mortar stores and online

  • Busiest holiday shopping day of the year in total shoppers

Cyber Monday
  • Refers to the Monday following Thanksgiving

  • Focused on online sales

  • Shoppers spend more money than they do on Black Friday

In 2020, Cyber Monday sales totaled $10.8 billion, which outpaced the prior year's $9.4 billion. However, in 2021, Cyber Monday sales dropped to $10.7 billion, down 1.4% according to Adobe Analytics.

Note

While Cyber Monday may be known for its online shopping, Black Friday has its fair share of digital purchases as well. About 88 million shoppers reported ordering online during Black Friday in 2021. In 2020, more than 100 million shopped online on Black Friday, up from 93.2 million people in 2019.

Although shoppers will never completely abandon brick-and-mortar stores, they expect retailers to offer a convenient online alternative. Many retailers are seeing sales boosts by allowing consumers to buy online and pick up in-store.

Other money-related holidays have sprung up around this time as well. Small Business Saturday is the day after Black Friday and is an effort to focus spending on local mom-and-pop shops. The day following Cyber Monday has been deemed Giving Tuesday and was created to fuel charitable giving during the holiday season.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When is Black Friday?

Black Friday always occurs the day after Thanksgiving, but the exact date changes from year to year. In 2022, Black Friday falls on November 25. The shopping holiday occurs on November 24 in 2023, November 29 in 2024, and November 28 in 2025.

Is Black Friday considered a holiday?

Black Friday is not considered an official holiday. Some companies offer the day after Thanksgiving off, but it is not a federally recognized holiday.

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Retail Federation. "Winter Holiday FAQs."

  2. National Retail Federation. "Nearly 180 Million Shop Over Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend."

  3. National Retail Federation. "Nearly 180 Million Shop Over Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend."

  4. National Retail Federation. "NRF Says Strong Consumer Fundamentals Counter Inflation and Interest Rates in Holiday Forecast."

  5. National Retail Federation. "Holiday 2022 By The Numbers."

  6. Britannica. "Why Is It Called Black Friday?"

  7. National Retail Federation. "NRF Says 2021 Holiday Sales Grew 14.1 Percent to Record $886.7 Billion."

  8. Adobe. "A Record-Breaking Cyber Week 2020: Online Shopping Steals the Show."

  9. Adobe. "Adobe: Consumers Spent $10.7 Billion on Cyber Monday."

  10. National Retail Federation. "Thanksgiving Weekend Draws Nearly 190 Million Shoppers, Spending Up to 16%."

  11. National Retail Federation. "Holiday Shoppers Take Advantage of Early, Thanksgiving Weekend Deals."

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