'Black Friday' was originally a term the police used to describe the start of the holiday season. How things have changed... Credit: RRM/Shutterstock

Instant expert: The origins of Black Friday

Author: Calum Brown

Published on:

Black Friday offers the best cruise deals – thanks to its history of retail innovation and competitive pricing. Never before has luxury cruise holidays been so accessible with unbeatable discounts and enticing incentives. However, to bag the best deal, you first need to understand Black Friday's origins...

Black Friday. Two words that cause society's commercial-driven brow to crackle with perspiration. The day following Thanksgiving was once a calm and gentle time to spend with family. Not anymore.

Modern culture dictates you need arm yourself and attack Walmart to acquire last-season’s electronics and fashions for a fraction of the original price. You can look forward to doing the same next year, or – if you are smart – simply enjoy online deals from the comfort of home; where giving the postman PTSD has never been so easy.

The post-appreciation madness has become synonymous in America with shopping sprees, doorbuster deals, and the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season.

Black Friday may be a modern phenomenon, but its origins and evolution remain deeply rooted in both historical and cultural contexts, making it more than just a shopping event for those with fake tan. Black Friday gives you the opportunity to partake in living history, and gain an experience, or something material, to enjoy.

The term 'Black Friday' initially held negative connotations, but not for the reasons a woke-sponsored keyboard warrior may push for. The term was first used by the Philadelphia police force throughout the 1950s, to describe the unfiltered chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving – when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists traditionally flocked to the city before the yearly Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday. The term also referred to the practice of workers calling in sick on the day after Thanksgiving, in order to have a four-day weekend.

Who would have though that retail's most celebrated day stems from humble yet excited Christmas shopping of yesteryear? Credit: Picryl

Not only did the police have to negotiate with feverish traffic jams and debilitating crowd control, but they also had to work extra-long shifts to manage the situation. Thus, for them, it was a "black" day; indicative of the stress and disorder. Not to mention the clean-up operation after swarms of maddening bargain hunters and football fans.

However, the term took on a different meaning in the 1980s. Retailers reinvented the terminology to reflect profitability rather than organised chaos. The idea was that, after a year of operating at a loss ("in the red"), stores would finally turn a profit ("in the black") on the day after Thanksgiving. It wasn’t about putting prices up, but rather taking advantage of the surge in holiday shopping.

This reframing transformed Black Friday into a day of economic optimism and retail success – but it took a while before this mantra was absorbed by those outwith the United States.

Retailers began to capitalise on this new, positive connotation by offering special sales and promotions. The marketing strategies paid off, and Black Friday gradually became the busiest shopping day of the year.

Stores would often open early, initially at 6:00 am, but as competition grew fiercer and buyers became overwrought, some began trade even earlier. Some extreme cases of midnight openings (or even starting sales on Thanksgiving evening) suddenly became commonplace, creating queues that stretched around the block regardless of weather. That discounted jumper was clearly worth the pneumonia.

Black Friday can also refer to the black eye you receive for trying to be the first person past security. Credit: Shutterstock

Black Friday in the 21st century

The 21st century has witnessed Black Friday evolve further, with the advent of the internet and e-commerce. Online retailers, most notably Amazon, began offering their own Black Friday deals, allowing consumers to shop from the comfort of their homes.

This digital shift later gave rise to 'Cyber Monday', a term coined by the National Retail Federation in 2005 to encourage people to shop online on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Well, for anyone with any money left over following Black Friday’s riots.

Despite its commercial success, Black Friday has not been without controversy. The intense competition for deals has led to numerous incidents of violence and injuries among shoppers, prompting some to criticise the consumerist frenzy it encourages.

It’s not uncommon to witness physical harm becoming those who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And God forbid if you happen to be holding that television that twice-convicted Karen the Destroyer wants for her kitchen.

Moreover, as awareness of ethical consumerism has grown, some retailers have chosen to boycott the day altogether.

They clearly like a Black Friday bargain in Brazil, where the locals will fight tooth-and-nail for a discounted television (as we all would). Credit: Shutterstock

Black Friday outside the United States

As with anything that largely originates from the United States, Black Friday has spread across the globe, becoming a worldwide phenomenon that – arguably – ranks alongside Christmas and New Year as a cultural mainstay.

Almost all countries have adopted the tradition in one way or another, seeing it as an opportunity to boost sales during an era where high-street venues need all the help they can get. In some cases, local customs and shopping habits have influenced how Black Friday is observed, but the core concept remains the same: offering significant discounts to kick off the holiday shopping season.

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 brought another shift in Black Friday dynamics. With social distancing measures in place and concerns over large crowds, many retailers extended their Black Friday sales throughout November or moved more of their deals online.

This sizeable change not only helped manage crowd sizes and reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but also highlighted a growing trend towards online shopping that is likely to continue shaping the future of Black Friday.

Black Friday's ideology reflects broader social, economic, and technological changes. From its beginnings as a term of frustration for Philadelphia's police to its current status as a global shopping event, Black Friday has continually adapted to the times.

Whether it conjures images of bustling stores, late-night deal hunting, or the convenience of online shopping, Black Friday remains a significant marker of the holiday season and a fascinating example of how cultural practices can evolve and spread across the world.

Ding-ding! Black Friday cruise deals are the best cruise deals. You can thank us later. Credit: Shutterstock/RRM

Cruise Deals: Black Friday takes hold

The term 'Black Friday may originate from retail, but it has since permeated various sectors, including travel and tourism, with cruise lines embracing this concept to attract a wave of eager vacationers.

The concept of Black Friday cruise deals began to gain traction in the early 2000s. As retailers saw enormous success with post-Thanksgiving sales, the travel industry, always looking for innovative ways to attract customers, took notice.

Cruise lines, which had already started to see a surge in popularity due to their all-inclusive nature and the promise of exotic destinations, realised they could tap into this trend by offering significant discounts and special deals during this peak shopping period.

Initially, Black Friday cruise deals were modest, with a few lines offering discounts on select voyages. However, as competition grew and the popularity of cruising soared, these deals became more elaborate. Cruise companies began to offer not just discounted fares, but also added incentives such as free onboard credits, complimentary upgrades, and additional perks like free dining experiences or shore excursions.

These deals were designed to entice both seasoned cruisers and first-timers, leveraging the excitement and urgency that Black Friday shopping evokes.

One of the pioneers in this space was Carnival Cruise Line. Known for its fun and affordable cruises, Carnival saw an opportunity to boost its bookings during the typically slow winter months. By offering Black Friday deals, they could fill cabins for sailings in the first quarter of the year, traditionally a slower period for travel. This strategy proved successful, and other major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises, soon followed suit.

Black Friday cruise deals have become incredibly popular, and all the big names are in on it. Credit: RRM

Online Black Friday cruise deals

The digital revolution further amplified the impact of Black Friday cruise deals. As more consumers began shopping online, cruise lines adapted by enhancing their digital marketing strategies.

Email blasts, social media campaigns, and dedicated Black Friday web pages became standard, providing customers with easy access to the best deals. This shift not only broadened the reach of these promotions but also allowed cruise lines to target specific demographics more effectively.

A significant turning point for Black Friday cruise deals came in the mid-2010s. With the rise of cyber shopping and the introduction of 'Cyber Monday', cruise lines extended their deals beyond just Black Friday.

They began offering week-long promotions, often branding them as 'Cyber Week' deals. This extension helped to alleviate the pressure on consumers to make immediate decisions and provided a longer window for marketing and customer engagement.

The deals themselves became more sophisticated and tailored. For instance, luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Crystal Cruises began offering significant savings on high-end itineraries, attracting affluent travellers looking for exclusive experiences at a reduced cost.

Meanwhile, family-oriented cruise operators, such as Disney Cruise Line, crafted deals that appealed to parents planning school holiday vacations, often bundling free child fares or special activities with their offers.

Moreover, the advent of dynamic pricing and advanced booking systems allowed cruise lines to offer more personalised deals. Using customer data, cruise companies could present offers that aligned with individual preferences, such as specific destinations, cabin types, or travel dates. This personalisation not only enhanced the customer experience but also increased the likelihood of bookings.

Covid-19 devastated the cruise industry, but those Black Friday sales helped bring the sector back to life. Credit: Shutterstock

How Covid set the Black Friday tone

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 marked a significant moment in the history of Black Friday cruise deals. The cruise industry, hit hard by global travel restrictions and safety concerns, saw Black Friday as a critical opportunity to regain momentum.

With many ships docked and future travel plans uncertain, cruise lines offered unprecedented deals to entice future bookings. These deals often included flexible cancellation policies, extensive onboard credits, and even health and safety guarantees to reassure wary travellers.

As travel restrictions eased and the world adapted to a new normal, Black Friday cruise deals in 2021 and 2022 reflected a renewed optimism in the industry.

There was a noticeable increase in creative promotions, such as bundled airfares, all-inclusive packages, and even free COVID-19 testing and travel insurance. The focus was not only on attracting new customers but also on restoring confidence among loyal cruisers.

The appeal of Black Friday cruise deals is a testament to the cruise industry's adaptability and marketing prowess. From humble beginnings in the early 2000s to becoming a key component of the travel industry's sales strategy, these deals have evolved to meet changing consumer demands and market conditions.

As technology continues to advance and travel preferences shift, Black Friday cruise deals will undoubtedly continue to play a significant role in shaping the future of cruising, offering cruisegoers enticing opportunities to explore the world at a fraction of the cost.

And, naturally, your best place to find Black Friday cruise deals remains the World of Cruising Black Friday page.

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About Calum Brown

Calum holds a deep interest in all things heritage and remains one of Britain’s most enthusiastic historians.

As a seasoned journalist, he has spent considerable time abroad and relishes all forms of transport. Shipping is in the blood, with a family connection to Stena Line embedded in his DNA. He also refuses to admit that 21st Century music exists.

Calum has developed a skill for bringing history alive, and always insists on making heritage accessible for everyone.