Today is Cyber Monday but where did the terminology come from? This blog will look at the history of both Cyber Monday and Black Friday. Information used was obtained from What Is Cyber Monday – History of How the Shopping Holiday Started and What’s the Real History of Black Friday?
The Monday after Thanksgiving has been a popular online shopping day since the turn of the 21st century. Before the smartphone era, consumers used the first workday after the long Thanksgiving weekend to check their favorite retailers’ websites for deals they might have missed at in-person Black Friday sales or more leisurely weekend trips to the mall.
In 2005, the National Retail Federation (through its commercial portal, Shop.org) decided to give the day a name: Cyber Monday, coined (per Fast Company) by a young NRF public relations executive named Ellen Davis. NRF capitalized on Davis’s flash of marketing brilliance by launching the one-stop shopping site CyberMonday.com, a clearinghouse of sorts for post-Thanksgiving discounts and deals.
NRF could not keep Cyber Monday under wraps forever. Almost immediately, major online retailers (along with e-commerce platforms operated by brick-and-mortar retailers like Target and Walmart) began offering their own Cyber Monday deals unconnected to CyberMonday.com making the original website obsolete.
ComScore began tracking Cyber Monday sales in 2006 when shoppers spent $608 million online. Since then, the holiday has seen double-digit sales increases almost every year. The sole exception was 2009, as recession-weary U.S. consumers tightened their belts. Cyber Monday 2009 sales grew a mere 5% over 2008. In 2014, ComScore reported that Cyber Monday desktop sales surpassed $2 billion for the first time ever. Total Cyber Monday sales, including mobile, were hundreds of millions of dollars higher. And sales jumped 12% in each of the two subsequent years. Considering the higher baseline, that is noteworthy; 12% of $2 billion is a lot more than 20% of $608 million.
The United States might be the only country in the world that celebrates Thanksgiving (or an equivalent giving-of-thanks holiday) on the fourth Thursday of November. But it is not the only country in the world to host a blowout online shopping sale around that time. Other countries that observe Cyber Monday are Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, India, Australia, and China.
The first recorded use of the term “Black Friday” was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869. Two notoriously ruthless Wall Street financiers, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk, worked together to buy up as much as they could of the nation’s gold, hoping to drive the price sky-high and sell it for astonishing profits. On that Friday in September, the conspiracy finally unraveled, sending the stock market into free-fall and bankrupting everyone from Wall Street barons to farmers.
The second coming of sorts for the term was back in the 1950s. Police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache.
By 1961, “Black Friday” had caught on in Philadelphia, to the extent that the city’s merchants and boosters tried unsuccessfully to change it to “Big Friday” in order to remove the negative connotations. The term did not spread to the rest of the country until much later, however, and as recently as 1985 it was not in common use nationwide. Sometime in the late 1980s, however, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the “red to black” concept of the holiday mentioned earlier, and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit.
Since then, the one-day sales bonanza has morphed into a four-day event and spawned other “retail holidays” such as Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday. Stores started opening earlier and earlier on that Friday, and now the most dedicated shoppers can head out right after their Thanksgiving meal (at least prior to 2020).
Black Friday VS Cyber Monday
According to Bloomberg, Cyber Monday’s dominance is in danger of eclipse by Black Friday, the original holiday shopping season blowout day. On Black Friday 2019, online sales topped $7.4 billion, according to TechCrunch, thanks to deep discounts from hundreds of major American retailers, including Walmart, Best Buy, Apple, and Target.
There are some notable difference between the two though as detailed below.
Cyber Monday Is Terrible for Productivity. Since the Monday after Thanksgiving is a workday for most 9-to-5ers, it is no surprise that tens of millions of Americans spend at least part of that day using their work computers to find the hottest deals. According to a 2019 survey by Robert Half (reported by CNBC), 52% of respondents said they would look for Cyber Monday deals while at work. The survey found that Cyber Monday was by the most popular day of the year for “workshopping,” followed by Amazon Prime Day.
Black Friday Is More Mobile. Black Friday is marginally more mobile-friendly than Cyber Monday. According to Marketing Land, 34% of total Black Friday purchases came from mobile traffic sources in 2018, compared to 28% of Cyber Monday purchases. Still, more than $2 billion in Cyber Monday sales occurred on smartphones, according to TechCrunch.
Black Friday Is Great for Electronics Deals. Virtually every major retailer participates in both events, but Black Friday and Cyber Monday have distinct focuses. Notably, Black Friday is a better day to stock up on heavily discounted electronics, including TVs, mobile devices, PCs and PC equivalents, AV devices, and home office equipment.
Cyber Monday Is Great for Home Goods and Soft Goods. Counterintuitively, Cyber Monday is a better fit for clothing and home goods, such as furnishings and fixtures. If you are buying clothing on Cyber Monday, make sure your retailer has a generous return policy.
Black Friday Is More Stressful. Though stress is subjective, veteran shoppers who have experienced Black Friday firsthand know how crazy the day can get. Long lines in the wee hours, thick crowds in stores, congested parking lots, heavy traffic on adjacent roads, arguments and fights over limited-quantity merchandise, door-buster stampedes – these perils, and many others, await brick-and-mortar Black Friday shoppers. By contrast, Cyber Monday is a breeze. The biggest inconveniences you are likely to face are an earlier-than-usual wake-up and a longer-than-usual load time at busy shopping sites.
Cyber Monday Is Prone to Scams. Only the biggest, flashiest, and most disruptive retail data security incidents make headlines. For every Target or Home Depot data breach that spews tens of millions of individuals’ personal and financial data out into the ether, there are hundreds or thousands of smaller-scale cyber-thefts. As the original online shopping holiday, Cyber Monday is particularly prone to e-commerce scams: phishing emails advertising too-good-to-be-true deals, fake sites that exist solely to steal credit card numbers, fly-by-night sellers that take your money and disappear, phony or counterfeit products sold under false pretenses, and more. Know how to protect yourself from these risks every day, not just Cyber Monday.