| Special to The Post
With retailers touting deals for weeks, it may seem like Black Friday has already happened. But despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular shopping day is coming, as usual, the day after Thanksgiving.
Millions of people are expected to converge on retail stores at malls and other shopping venues to do some serious Christmas and holiday shopping. Due to the pandemic and shutdowns in the spring, retailers say they need the business more than ever.
“The retail industry has always considered the holiday shopping season to be November and December,” said Amanda Bevis, spokesperson for the Florida Retail Federation. “Nov. 1 is the start. Purchases made at retail in November in December account for one-fifth of annual sales. For many retailers, it is higher than that.”
“Many have suffered severe financial impacts due to COVID,” Bevis said. “This season is more important than ever.”
Shopping with extra precautions
Shoppers are looking for door-busters and bargains and a day out of the house, even though masks and social distancing are required. Malls are also taking precautions as they do every day, such as providing hand sanitizer and conducting rigorous cleaning and disinfecting to areas such as restrooms, food courts and other common area touchpoints.
While area malls are scheduled to open at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m. on Black Friday, stores with exterior entrances — including Macy’s and JCPenney — are set to open at 5 a.m. to give early shoppers first dibs on merchandise.
Unlike last year, Macy’s, JCPenney, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl’s and most other stores are closed on Thanksgiving. E-commerce is expected to benefit as shoppers go online on Thanksgiving to search for deals.
“We don’t know what to expect this year, no one does. It’s the first Black Friday during a global pandemic,” said Whitney Pettis Jester, director of marketing and merchant relations at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, where Black Friday hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“We have seen brands that are starting holiday sales earlier and extending them to spread out the holiday shopping traffic,” Jester said. “Based on trends and feedback we’re seeing, we anticipate that guests are excited to shop and start the holiday season, and we offer a safe, comfortable and merry environment to do it.”
Spreading out shopping trips is something retailers are encouraging as deals are being launched online and in stores at different times leading up to Black Friday. Target, for example, has rolled out a new series of deals each week of November.
Many sales have moved online
“Shop early, or at off hours of the day, to avoid crowds and lines,” advises Jessica Quigley, a spokesperson for the Mall at Wellington Green, which will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Black Friday. “Follow all posted health and safety guidelines while you are at the center, including wearing a mask and staying two elves apart from those outside your household.”
Kristin McGrath, a savings and deals expert at BlackFriday.com, said retailers started Black Friday offers earlier than usual this year. Retailers split up their Black Friday sales into multiple events, in-store and online. Walmart and Macy’s launched their first round of deals on Nov. 4. Kohl’s launched its season with a Black Friday preview sale on Nov. 6
“The biggest difference is that there will be way less of an in-store component this year,” McGrath said. “That is a trend we have noticed over the past several years. It has moved more online. Some retailers are opening extra early on Black Friday, but they are making it clear that deals will be available online.”
Stores won’t be handing out trinkets, coffee or treats to shoppers this year. They will be monitoring how many people are allowed in, and requiring social distancing and other precautions due to COVID-19.
“They are not trying to make it a tailgating event this year,” McGrath said.
Palm Beach Outlets general manager Sarah Kudisch said the West Palm Beach shopping destination will be open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Black Friday.
“Based on our present observations, we anticipate a mix of in-person shopping, e-commerce and curbside pickup options,” Kudisch said. “Many of our retailers have curbside pickup including Coach, GUESS Factory, Kate Spade New York, Old Navy, Polo Ralph Lauren, Saks Off 5th, Ulta Beauty and more.
“As an open-air shopping destination, Palm Beach Outlets has room for social distancing and outdoor eating, which attracts many visitors. Black Friday has steadily been expanding into a week of sales, with many promotions starting the weekend before Thanksgiving. We expect this trend to continue.”
Boynton Beach Mall general manager Edward Boylan said the indoor center will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Black Friday, with Macy’s open from 5 a.m. to midnight. Other department store and movie theater hours may vary.
Visits and photos with Santa will begin at 11 a.m. on Black Friday in Santa’s Village in center court at the Boynton mall. A DJ will also be in the food court from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
A recent National Retail Federation survey indicates that 94% of shoppers will spend money at retailers with physical stores this season and that 53% will buy online and pick up in-store.
“Boynton Beach Mall is well prepared to help retailers meet the growing demand for buy online and pick up in store with Retail to-Go, our convenient curbside pickup initiative,” Boylan said.
A recent National Retail Federation survey found that 53% of shoppers said they’re willing to shop earlier than usual to take advantage of sales and promotions. Of those shopping earlier, 37% are doing so to avoid crowds and 31% to prevent last-minute shopping stress. In addition, 42% of consumers said they planned to start their shopping by the end of October, and 41% picked November as their ideal start date.
“You are seeing a lot of the retailers starting promotions early to capitalize on shoppers’ desires to get out there,” the Florida Retail Federation’s Bevis said.
The survey indicated individual consumers planned to spend $50 less than last year, or $997 per person. The breakdown is $650 on gifts, $230 on holiday items such as decorations, and $117 on other non-gift purchases.
Based on consumers shopping early and available promotions, the result could be less foot traffic on Black Friday.
Black Friday is a long-standing tradition. The term was coined in the 1960s to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season, according to BlackFriday.com. “Black” refers to stores moving from the “red” to the “black” back when accounting records were kept by hand, and red ink indicated a loss and black a profit.
Decades later, the buzzword has become pervasive and its widespread use begs the question of whether “Black Friday” has become a marketing tool that has lost its punch. While the phrase may be in just about every advertisement this time of year, it catches consumers’ interest. A lot of shoppers are waiting until Black Friday to buy, anticipating from past experience that the best deals are yet to come.
Britt Beemer, founder of America’s Research Group, a leading authority on consumer retail buying habits, said that seasoned Black Friday shoppers are waiting for the deals on the actual day.
“It is the only time of year when retailers have such low prices,” Beemer said. “They tell the consumer how many they have in the store to buy. The consumer can decide if they want to stay overnight or wait in line. There is never going to be another retail weekend to replace what all the retailers are advertising.”
Shoppers will get up early to hit the stores for items priced at $200 and up, which is why electronics dominate early sales.
“If you can save $100 on a $200 item, that is when people get excited,” Beamer said. “A couple of years ago, Macy’s came out with jewelry pieces below cost. They used those to drive their Black Friday sales. Sears did that crazy offer on a washer and dryer pair, at two for $799. They were $1399 a pair. They sold 70,000 in four hours.”
Beemer said he expects there will be some blockbuster deals this year, but not as many.
“One question mark I look at every day, is what do Americans need to buy? They really don’t need to buy much,” Beemer said. “To get them excited, you have to have a huge discount.”
Beemer said that while people were stuck at home during the COVID lockdowns, they were not able to buy certain things. Furniture sales have soared during the past three months, surpassing sales for all of 2019. Shoppers realized their homes’ interiors needed refurbishing and leaned toward the best quality they could find and afford.
“The furniture spend of $2,000 to $3,000 might wipe out some of the other things,” Beemer said. “Fifty percent more consumers will buy things like mattresses between now and Christmas. It might be their primary Christmas gift to each other. It will make the house look better, or they will sleep better.”
Online shopping increased since the pandemic began, and that trend could further affect in-store sales.
“Over the last two years, 49% of Americans have been buying stuff online regularly or often,” Beemer said. “The other 51% were buying online seldom or never. During the pandemic we have seen an eight-point shift of the ‘seldom to never’ going into the ‘often and more often.’ Eight points might not seem like a big deal, but that is a 20% shift from stores to online.”
With all the predictions and surveys about what this holiday shopping season holds, Beemer said, there is one consumer wish that stands out:
“There are a lot of people who want the Christmas season to come for one reason. They want to get their family together. That is the overwhelming concern.”