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Black Friday: History, Strategies, and Tips

Updated on February 26, 2013
Black Friday
Black Friday

Black Friday!

On the heels of such a wonderful day like Thanksgiving (filled with family, food, football, parades, memories and traditions), comes a day whose very name can either bring a rush of adrenaline like no other or a sense of dread that rivals experiencing multiple root canals without anesthesia.

But just how did we get here? And why all the illusion to darkness?

Crowded Christmas Shoppers - 1900's
Crowded Christmas Shoppers - 1900's | Source

A Brief History of the term “Black Friday”

In this country, the term “Black Friday” has references as far back as the nineteenth century, and in particular to the financial crisis in 1869.

The first occurrence of “Black Friday” as designating the day after Thanksgiving was in Philadelphia in 1966. Dubbed by the Philadelphia Police Department as both the day that officially began the Christmas Shopping Season and the busiest shopping day of the Christmas Season, “Black Friday” also brought with it massive traffic jams, over-crowded sidewalks full of jaywalkers, over-crowded stores, shop lifting galore and every headache possible for a cop on the beat.

In the Black - Cash
In the Black - Cash | Source

The “Black Ink” Theory of “Black Friday”

To offset the negativity of the term “Black Friday,” in the early 1980’s, the “Black Ink” Theory was popularized.

The idea behind the “Black Ink” Theory was that through most of any given year, during the months of January through November, most retailers operated in the red incurring a financial loss. The only time that retailers made their profit and keep the business afloat was during the Holiday Season, beginning on the day after Thanksgiving (Friday) and running through Christmas.

So, under this theory, the Holiday Season was the only time of the year that most retailers operated in the black (profit), while the rest of the year, they would operate in the red (loss)! The reality for most retailers, both past and modern, is that if they are going to continue in business, the quarter that contains the Christmas Holidays must be so profitable as to completely offset the losses of the previous three quarters.

But regardless of how the phrase “Black Friday” came to be, the reality for all shoppers driven to get those once-in-a-season bargains, is that “Black Friday” cometh, . . . and so, what are the best strategies and tips to conquer this day that is like no other?

Strategies and Tips for Preparing for Black Friday

The First Key to developing a successful strategy is to "DO YOUR HOMEWORK!"

● Know Your Product

The first step in developing your “Black Friday” Strategy is in knowing your product. That may sound elementary, but it’s only possible to get the best deal on the product you want when you know exactly what you want.

The internet makes researching reviews of any product easily accessible. Such websites as:,,, and are great assets in determining if the given product is exactly what you are seeking. Also, most online stores will have written customer reviews as part of that particular’s product information page.

In our modern era, there is simply no excuse for not thoroughly researching all the major items you ever consider purchasing. There may be times to engage store help as to product questions, inquiries of specs and personal opinions, but on the day of “Black Friday” is NOT it!

● Know Your Price

After you have done your research and have finalized your product decision, the next strategic step is to locate the best current sale price, so you will know with certainty how great (or not so great) of a deal you would be getting from any sales advertised on “Black Friday.”

Four very helpful websites to find your product and compare current sale prices are:,,, and Many of these sites also include product reviews.

One strategy that I have used is to go online to determine a good price for the product I am hunting. Then, I go to 2-3 online sites, find my item, and click it into my shopping cart. I take the process up to the point right before I must place my order. I see if there are any applicable online coupons, and figure in the cost of shipping and handling. I now have the best online price to compare with the ads for “Black Friday.”

Walmart Ad Match Policy
Walmart Ad Match Policy | Source

● Know Your Store Policies of “Price Matching” and “Return”

If you are considering using the “Store Price Matching” strategy to avoid all the craziness of Black Friday, again, make sure to diligently do your homework. Do not assume that just because you have the printed ad from Store A that Store B is under any obligation to honor it. Stores change their Store Price Matching Policies on a yearly basis. In some stores, you may be left at the mercy of the Manager on Duty who has already been up for 24 hours and may not be in the mood to match another store’s price on your item.

Different stores’ “Price Matching” Policies can run the gamut. During certain years, some stores have been known for taking an additional 10% off the competitors’ price, while other stores do not honor “price matching” on the day of Black Friday. In some years, certain retailers have even offered to match prices retroactively on items that were bought from November 1st – December 25th on identical items with the ad and original receipt, while other stores do not honor “price matching” on any item at any time of the year. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Planning to use the “Store Price Matching” strategy on Black Friday could potentially be a great time saver, e.g., cutting down on the number of stops in a sea of traffic that no one wants any part. But be cautious! Trying to implement this strategy on the day of Black Friday, could be risky business. “Black Friday” is the day when stores are open to makes sales, not major in matching prices of other stores. Trying to find a cooperative Manager and Clerk can use up precious time on a day that will already be full of time restraints, crowds, and traffic that can easily derail your “Black Friday” Strategy.

As to ‘returns,’ always know a store’s “Return Policies” before buying. This is the “Season to Make Hay” for retail stores, not for accommodating returns of holiday purchases. Some stores have different “Return Policies” during the holidays, and often, a store may have different “Return Policies” for purchases made in-store versus online.

● Know Your Store Ads

The best and most timely ads for your area stores will be in the Thanksgiving Day newspaper. These ads will not only tell you the items on sale and the crazy store hours, but what is equally important is the information concerning the time sensitivity nature of the sales. Many times, the deepest discounts only apply if you shop before a given time on Black Friday, such as before 10:00am or 11:00am or noon.

● Know Your Store Hours

Every year, stores open up earlier and earlier with an attempt to take market share away from each other. As stores back things up from opening early on Black Friday to opening late on Thanksgiving Night (and earlier), knowing the exact time that stores will open is imperative to any Black Friday strategy

THE KEY: Do Your Homework.

Keep current. The rules of the game change every year!

● Decide how early you’ll start.

If you must do the midnight/early morning thing (which some would say is the very heart of Black Friday), dress accordingly and comfortably.

 Black Friday - Best Buy
Black Friday - Best Buy | Source

● Predetermine your shopping companion(s).

This is a day for like-minded people to conquer the deals, not for deep relationships to be forged. Well-meaning spouses are always appreciated, but this is not a time or place for the faint of heart. (In the words of Socrates: “On this day, save your marriage and leave him at home!”)

● The Keys:

Bring your lists, bring your ads, dress in layers, wear comfortable shoes, and bring snacks and drinks. Don’t waste time in food court or drive-thru lines! Time Is Money!

KISS Principle
KISS Principle | Source

● KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid!)

If your strategy is too complicated, aggressive and dependent on too many favorable variables (i.e., small crowds, short lines, plentiful products and light traffic), you will be setting yourself up for failure and may not accomplish all of your major purchase deals. On this day, in particular, you want to know your strategy going in and to stick to it. Be realistic in your expectations, realizing that you are competing with thousands of other shoppers, many of whom desire the same items that are on your list!

● Stay Focused!

Purchase the items you have researched and do not be enticed by all the other sale price tags on items that are not on your list.

Avoid in-store instant savings credit card offers. The application takes precious time, and any immediate savings on Black Friday will soon be minimized by the higher interest rates you will be paying. Stay focused at the task at hand!

● Work Your Plan!

You have done your homework and developed your Plan, . . . “Work It!”

● And Remember, . . .

In some strange way, throughout the course of this day, regardless of the deals, the weather, the traffic, the crowds, the company, . . . you are making a memory.

NOW, . . . Go To It! And Happy Shopping!


Further Reading

Black Friday: Strategy on How to Pull Off the All-Nighter

To be successful in getting the best deals and making memories on Black Friday, you need a strategy specifically designed for the Black Friday All-Nighter. The major elements of this strategy are to: draft the right team and group of people for your mission, be lean and mean in what you bring, be strategic with your special item tickets, divide and conquer inside the store, have “runners,” checkout line strategy, quick get-a-way plan, and move on to the next store.


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