Since the early 2000s, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the US, and most major retailers open very early (and more recently during overnight hours) and offer promotional sales.
Black Friday is not an official holiday, but California and some other states observe "The Day After Thanksgiving" as a holiday for state government employees, sometimes in lieu of another federal holiday such as Columbus Day.
Many non-retail employees and schools have both Thanksgiving and the following Friday off, which, along with the following regular weekend, makes it a four-day weekend, thereby increasing the number of potential shoppers.
It has routinely been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005, although news reports, which at that time were inaccurate, have described it as the busiest shopping day of the year for a much longer period of time.
Similar stories resurface year upon year at this time, portraying hysteria and shortage of stock, creating a state of positive feedback.
In 2014, $50.9 billion was spent during the 4-day Black Friday weekend, down 11% from the previous year. While approximately 133 million U.S. consumers shopped during the same period, down 5.2% from last year's 141 million. Also, the average online order on Black Friday was $129.37.
The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic that would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.
Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975.
Later an alternative explanation was made: that retailers traditionally operated at a financial loss ("in the red") from January through November, and "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or "in the black".
Contrary to what many believed, Black Friday did not originate from the sales of slaves on the day after Thanksgiving.
For many years, it was common for retailers to open at 6:00 a.m., but in the late 2000s many had crept to 5:00 or even 4:00. This was taken to a new extreme in 2011, when several retailers (including Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Best Buy, and Bealls) opened at midnight for the first time.
In 2012, Walmart and several other retailers announced that they would open most of their stores at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, prompting calls for a walkout among some workers.
In 2014 stores such as JCPenney, Best Buy, and Radio Shack opened at 5 PM on Thanksgiving Day while stores such as Target, Walmart, Belk, and Sears opened at 6 PM on Thanksgiving Day.
Three states, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts, prohibit large supermarkets, big box stores and department stores from opening on Thanksgiving, due to blue laws.