Safe Shopping Holiday Guide

A Safe Shopper's Guide to the Retail #Holidays

November 21, 2018

By now, you’ve probably heard of #BlackFriday, #CyberMonday and #GivingTuesday. But what about #GrayThursday? Or #SofaSunday?

If you’re confused by all the holiday shopping hashtags, don’t worry — you’re not the only one. That’s why we came up with this complete guide to help you sort it all out, and stay safe during the busiest retail week of the year:

Gray Thursday  •  Black Friday  •  Small Business Saturday  •  Sofa Sunday  •  Cyber Monday  •  Giving Tuesday

#BlackFriday (and #GrayThursday)

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is informally regarded as the first day of the holiday shopping season in the U.S. Many retailers offer significantly reduced prices, promotional sales and “doorbuster” deals, often so lucrative that shoppers stand in line for hours before the stores open their doors. A whole marketing culture has sprung up surrounding the day, which has grown so prominent that retailers have started opening their doors earlier and earlier — some even the night before. The bleeding into traditional turkey time has caused some people to refer to Thanksgiving night as "Gray Thursday."

Why is it Called Black Friday?

It's commonly thought that "Black Friday” is labeled as such, because this is the day many stores go from “in the red” (a loss) to “in the black” (a profit) in their ledgers. 

However, the term is actually attributed to the Philadelphia Police Department in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Philly police officers first used the term to describe the dreaded influx of people that would hit the City of Brotherly Love on the day after Thanksgiving — both for holiday shopping and in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on Saturday. The traffic jams, overcrowded sidewalks and opportunistic thieves caused such headaches for law enforcement that they starting calling it "Black Friday." It wasn't until a few decades later that marketers started picking up the term.

Safe Black Friday Shopping Tips:

  • Stay warm and hydrated. If you find yourself standing in line outside, waiting for the doors to open, you need to find ways to help your body keep the heat in. Dress in layers and keep your head covered. Most experts recommend three to five layers, with an outer layer that is wind and water proof. Also, make sure you drink at least 64 ounces of water during the day. Staying hydrated keeps you upright, and adds the side benefit of keeping you more alert for those great deals!
  • Drive defensively — especially in parking lots. There’s a good chance the roads will be as crowded as the stores. So be patient, avoid phone distractions and stay alert — especially in parking areas. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, one out of every five crashes occurs in a parking garage or parking lot.
  • Park in a well-lit area. Large parking lots are a thief’s hunting ground, especially during a busy shopping day. So park in a well-lit area and make sure you remember exactly where you left it. When returning to your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings. Avoid chatting on your cell phone, digging thorough your purse, or doing anything that takes your attention away from the environment. Have your keys out before you approach your car, and survey the area thoroughly as you approach. Check underneath your car and in the backseat before you get in, and lock your doors as soon as you do. Finally, watch for suspicious people loitering around and report them. 
  • Never leave packages visible. Thieves love to go window shopping in the parking lot. So make sure your car is locked and place all your shopping bags and valuables out of site — ideally, in the trunk. If you’re out of space in the trunk, take your packages home immediately and grab some leftover turkey before going out for another run!
  • Agree on a meeting point. If shopping together with friends or family, pick a central location and a time to meet, in case you get separated. 
  • Clutch your clutch. Thieves target wallets and purses first. Keep your purse or wallet close to your body, or in a pocket inside your coat or in the front of your pants. Or, consider wearing a “cross body” bag, which is a more secure way of carrying your personal items.
  • Don’t buy more than you can carry. If you buy too much and don’t have a friend with you, ask a store employee to help. Don’t try to juggle those packages yourself! Thieves look for shoppers who appear distracted, overwhelmed and overloaded.
  • Immediately record serial numbers of big purchases. Most electronics have a sticker on the side of the box containing unique information. Snap a photo of this to your phone. Should the worst happen, you will have this information to provide to the police.


Small Business Saturday® is a movement initiated by American Express, urging people everywhere to “Shop Small” by frequenting their favorite local businesses on the day after Black Friday (which is often dominated by larger, national retailers). At Security National Bank, we also encourage you to keep your money close to home during this holiday shopping season. Local merchants are your friends and neighbors, and small business are the backbone of our economy — and they need your support!

Safe Small Business Saturday Shopping Tips:

  • Withdraw cash early. Carry it in your front pocket. Some small business only accept cash or checks, so if you must carry cash, it’s good to withdraw it a few days before to avoid standing in line at an ATM (where you leave yourself exposed to pickpockets and identity thieves). Carry the cash in your front pockets to keep it more secure.
  • Have children? Hold their hands. Shoppers are more apt to bring their entire families along on Small Business Saturday, which is seen as a bit more “family friendly” than its high traffic Black Friday counterpart. It's difficult for motorists to see children in busy parking lots, since kids make so many quick, unpredictable movements. Hold the hands of your children to keep them safe. 
  • Use the Chip, not the Strip. Whenever possible, always use the EMV chip on your credit or debit card (not the magnetic strip), because chip cards are more secure. This is especially true at smaller shops that might not have the same security precautions as larger retailers.
  • Don’t forget the #BlackFriday rules. In case you scanned ahead, be sure to follow all of the Black Friday safety tips above. Many of them apply to #Small Business Saturday, too (and year-round shopping practices, for that matter).


The newest day to be added to the hashtag holiday fold, "Sofa Sunday" is when savvy online shoppers spend hours researching the next day’s “Cyber Monday” deals, often from the comfort of their own homes (hence the “Sofa” part). Think of it as the ultimate warmup — or perhaps a well-needed intermission — that takes place between the physical stress of Thanksgiving Weekend and the virtual madness of Cyber Monday shopping.

According to a recent survey from marketing company Valassis, more than 70 percent of shoppers research special Cyber Monday deals the day before. Another fun fact: Nearly two-thirds of shoppers will actually spend as much or more  time researching on Sofa Sunday than they will making purchases on Cyber Monday.

Safe Sofa Sunday Research Tips:

  • Monitor your statements and bank accounts. You are the first line of defense against fraud and identity theft — so monitor your own accounts frequently for unusual activity. Luckily, checking your accounts easier than ever with features like online and mobile banking. And there’s no better time to double check your accounts, than when your’e sitting on the sofa preparing for Cyber Monday!
  • Review and compare warranty terms. As you perform your research, make sure you compare warranty terms for certain products between sites. Be aware of what protections you will get, and for how long. Not all warranties are the same. 
  • Read the refund policies. Along the same lines as warranties, review the refund policies for each product. Some states, like Iowa, have laws requiring merchants to post their policies if they do NOT accept returns (no such laws exist in South Dakota or Nebraska, however).


Cyber Monday, or the Monday following Thanksgiving, is promoted by online retailers as a day for special bargains and exceptional deals — sort of a digital version of Black Friday.

Where did Cyber Monday originate? 

The phrase Cyber Monday first surfaced in the ecommerce community in 2005, whipped up by a savvy marketing team at “,” a division of the National Retail Federation. Believe it or not, at that time the Monday after Thanksgiving wasn’t even the busiest online shopping day of the year! That’s not the case now — in 2017, Cyber Monday reeled in a record $6.59 billion, making it the largest online shopping day in U.S. history.  

Tips for safe Cyber Monday shopping:

  • Avoid Public Wi-Fi. Never make online purchases or access your bank accounts using public or unsecured Wi-Fi. Only shop over secure Internet connections, on your own secure device.
  • Only Shop Well-Known, Secure Sites. Check to confirm that “https://“ is in the address bar on a website before making a purchase or entering any personal or credit card information. In addition to the important prefix with the “S,” look closely at the URL to make sure it is legitimate. Sometimes typos in the address can lead you to a malicious site. 
  • Be Cautious of Unsolicited Emails.  Even an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate business could be a scammer. Make sure the sender’s address actually corresponds with the business it claims to represent before you open an email. And never click on a link provided in an unsolicited email. For more information, read our blog on how to detect a phishing email.
  • Be Home for Delivery. If possible, schedule deliveries for times that you’ll actually be home to answer the door. It’s never a good idea to leave your packages exposed on your front stoop during holiday season.


Founded in 2012, Giving Tuesday has grown into a one-day global giving movement, harnessing the power of social media and the Internet to encourage charitable giving around the world. Millions of people make an online donation on this day, then spread awareness by sharing the #GivingTuesday hashtag (and usually a donation link) on social media. According to its founders, Giving Tuesday in 2017 raised more than $274 million from 2.5 million contributors. 

Many legitimate charities make a big push for donations during Giving Tuesday. Unfortunately, many scam artists do the same. 

Tips for Safe Giving Tuesday Donations:

  • Verify, Verify, Verify: Before making any charitable donation, verify the organization at, the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance Website.
  • Give directly to the charity’s website. If you find a charity is legitimate, give the funds directly via the organization’s official website or mailing address — NOT to a stranger via phone, email or unaffiliated fundraising site. 
  • Never mail or wire money. If someone wants donations in cash, gift card or by wire — don’t do it.  Scammers frequently use these payment forms.
  • Keep a record of your donations. This is important to do for tax purposes, and to verify if an organization reaches out in the future and claims you have donated before.

Have a Safe Holiday Shopping Season!

From all of us at Northwestern Bank, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday shopping season. For more information, subscribe to the NWB Newsletter and get useful financial safety tips delivered to your inbox each month.