What are Black Friday and Cyber Monday all about?

online shopping

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted November 17, 2021

With roots in America’s Thanksgiving celebrations, why is Black Friday becoming such a big deal in Australia? And what is Cyber Monday all about?

On Friday November 26th, you’d be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about. After all, the term ‘Black Friday’ has only become synonymous with shopping sales in Australia during the internet age. Traditionally, the big ‘sales surge’ offering everything from cheap fridges and electronic goods to discounted beauty products and shoes is expected at the end of the financial year and Boxing Day sales, not randomly in November.

But since becoming a globally-connected society, Australian retailers have gotten on the bandwagon to offer sales that rival their overseas competitors. Over the last financial year, online shopping has risen in Australia by nearly 32 per cent, while with this (relatively) new shopping holiday, Aussies are predicted to part with $3.8 billion this Black Friday alone. 

But why are prices slashed on this day? Why is it called Black Friday? And what even is Cyber Monday? 

The story behind shopping 'events'

When are Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Black Friday always takes place on the Friday after the American Thanksgiving holiday, with Cyber Monday falling the following Monday.

For 2021, Black Friday is on Friday 26 November, and Cyber Monday follows on Monday 29 November.

Why is it called Black Friday?

There are multiple accounts of the origins of the term:

The phrasing of ‘Black Friday’ originated to represent the chaos and congestion in traffic that would happen after Thanksgiving in the USA. 

What is known as the ‘Panic of 1869’ also refers to Black Friday, where two financiers attempted to corner the gold market, although their plan was foiled, and many fortunes ruined – the stock market plummeted by 20 per cent and foreign trade was completely halted.

By the 1970s and 1980s, the term was more widely used to refer to retailers operating at a loss before the Christmas period (or being ‘in the red’) before making a profit at the start of the Christmas holiday season (‘in the black’). 

As the day after Thanksgiving typically marks the start of the Christmas shopping season, in modern-day, ‘Black Friday’ simply refers to a wide range of sales both in-person and online at retailers worldwide.

online shopping

These days, over 90 per cent of shoppers will be looking to snap up a bargain online rather than in store. Image: Getty. 


What happens on Black Friday?

These days, Black Friday signifies a sale period, or the boom before Christmas sales. Many retailers across the globe, knowing this is now a worldwide shopping event, offer sales, discounts, and promotions to rival competitors.

Consumers may wish to start shopping for early Christmas bargains, or might just be looking for a good deal on some of the top items Aussies shop for, including clothing, food and alcohol, and electronics.  

Many retailers may open early, or even start offering their discounts in the weeks or days leading up to Black Friday. In Australia, it is now second only to Boxing Day as our largest shopping event. You may have already noticed your email has been flooded with retailers advertising promotional codes, sign-up offers, specialised discounted items or exclusive membership deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Though Black Friday used to be primarily an American event (as we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Australia) the rise of international online retail has forced Australian retailers to get on board, or risk losing sales to American online merchants.

Case in point - a recent survey found that in 2017, nearly one in four Aussies had never even heard of Black Friday. By 2020, this number shrank to just four per cent, while search volume for the term 'Black Friday'  increased by 44 per cent in the last three years in Australia, showing the widespread attention it now has in our country.

Why is it called Cyber Monday?

‘Cyber Monday’ is a term invented in 2005 that refers to people who search for bargains the Monday immediately following Black Friday.

The term ‘Cyber Monday’ became popularised in 2005 during the infancy of the internet-age. Many shoppers would use Black Friday simply to window shop and research what products they would purchase for Christmas. As Black Friday sales began to extend beyond 24 hours and were offered online, the Monday became a boom day for the digital retail space.

There is also conjecture that Cyber Monday came to rise as office workers in the US returned to their desks and went online shopping, rather than doing work.

These days, while Black Friday has targeted both online and in-store retail, Cyber Monday is a major sales event exclusively for online retailers - offering discounts and promo codes for a short time period. The event is ultimately aimed at encouraging people to shop online.

It seems this will prove popular - following the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce platform Shopify found that 90 per cent of Aussie shoppers will do so online. Only half of Aussie shoppers are expected to set foot in a store.

There are also other online ‘shopping events’ to put on the calendar, including Singles Day – an online shopping event originating in China to celebrate celebrated on November 11 each year. While this is a massive event across the world, it is less popular in Australia, where we focus on Remembrance Day. 

How long do Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales go for?

While both shopping events are referred to as singular days, many retailers have offers and discounts in the lead-up to and aftermath of these events – so keep your eyes peeled for a bargain!