What will Black Friday look like during a pandemic?
It's going to be a holiday season like no other in a year like no other.
The familiar scene of crowded malls and rushed vacation shoppers on Black Friday is unlikely to happen in 2020 as the majority of Americans choose to shop online this year amid a pandemic.
According to Katherine Cullen, Senior Director of Industry and Consumer Insights at the National Retail Federation, America's time-honored retail tradition has been losing popularity for some time, and this year's COVID-19 outbreak only contributed to its decline.
Aside from 2020, there was already a trend to rethink the role of Black Friday [and] Thanksgiving weekend. It had already shifted, ”Cullen told Yahoo Money. “It was no longer the prelude to people shopping. It was more like half a point. "
A JC Penney department store above empty parking lots in Woodbridge Center Mall closed due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey, United States on May 21, 2020. REUTERS / Lucas Jackson
As retailers offset health and safety concerns for their employees and customers, a focus on Black Friday can take a back seat.
"We're going to see a number of strategies and focus less on the single weekend this year," said Cullen, "and more on a season of shopping."
Read more: Top Tips For This Holiday Season
Amazon was the first major player to switch to a lengthy shopping season with its Prime Day in October. Traditionally held in July but derailed from this year's pandemic, Amazon shifted its two-day shopping extravaganza to mid-October, effectively extending the Christmas shopping season by six weeks as other retailers were doing similar 48-hour shopping over the same period. Sales followed.
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Not only is the sales preview and e-commerce postponement serving better public health, it is also helping "retailers protect themselves against bottlenecks [and] shipping problems," Nathan Burrow, editor at Wirecutter, told Yahoo Money.
Supply chains were hampered by the pandemic as systems were not prepared to handle the sudden surge in demand for certain products. Burrow said the "insane rush of just a few days" can hopefully be alleviated if the shopping season starts earlier.
Major retail destinations like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart announced their Black Friday deals in early November. All three companies are placing more emphasis on online deals than ever and on sales spanning the entire month to further blur the faded distinction between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
What can shoppers expect on Black Friday?
People pull loaded shopping carts at a Walmart store on Thanksgiving Day in North Bergen, New Jersey on November 22, 2012. REUTERS / Eric Thayer
But Black Friday will not be fully remembered this year or any other. After all, Black Friday 2019 hit $ 7.4 billion in online sales, according to Adobe Analytics, and Cyber Monday followed at a staggering $ 9.4 billion.
Black Friday will still attract the "biggest crowd of the year," but pedestrian traffic on November 27 will be "dramatically lower" than last year, said Jan Rogers Kniffen, CEO of J Rogers Kniffen WorldWide.
Kniffen predicts that Black Friday will be "one of the best-selling days of the year", but formulates his forecast that the order of magnitude will not quite correspond to previous years and that total sales will be 90% of the previous year's sales. The number of retail stores open on Thanksgiving, doorbuster deals and in-store sales will "not come close to last year," he said.
Read More: Top 5 Post-Pandemic Travel Predictions From Industry Executives From The All Markets Summit
The only record to be broken this year is total online sales, which has steadily weakened in-store sales since online vacation shopping debuted in 1999, Kniffen said.
Regardless of how customers shop, Kniffen recommends getting your shopping done sooner rather than later.
"Buying what you want early or for the first time in your life may be gone," he said. "Be careful waiting for the best deal."
What will Black Friday deals look like?
A woman walks past Black Friday deals in a shop in central London in the rain on November 20, 2020 as life goes on under a second lockdown in England. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
Retailers will continue to want to market customers for issues so that a variety of sought-after brands and products are available for sale.
"The good news is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday have sales on almost everything except items that have seasonal sales," said Burrow.
Offerings range from practical gifts like Dyson vacuums, instant pots, and robotic vacuums to electronics from Apple, Google, and Bose, Burrow said. The sale of toys and games will also be possible.
Read More: Retail CEOs Offer Their 4 Vacation Shopping Forecasts
If you are in the winter clothing, mattresses and bedding market, and most of the outdoor items, you'd better wait for the winter season to end to catch these deals, Burrow said.
Even in 2020, the hustle and bustle of the Black Friday phenomenon is hard to drown out, but Burrow advised against "believing the hype" as retailers often artificially raise prices to make stores appear steeper or more generous, especially on aging products or models from last season.
"The truth is," he said, "most Black Friday deals just aren't that good."
The Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.
Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.
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