What will Black Friday look like during a pandemic?

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·5 min read

It will be a holiday season unlike any other in a year unlike any other.

The familiar scene of crowded malls and harried holiday shoppers on Black Friday likely won’t materialize in 2020 because the majority of Americans are opting to shop online this year amid a pandemic.

But America’s time-honored retail tradition had been waning in popularity for some time, according to Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation, with this year’s COVID-19 outbreak only adding to its decline.

“2020 aside, there has already been a trend of rethinking the role of Black Friday [and] Thanksgiving weekend. It had already shifted,” Cullen told Yahoo Money. “It was no longer the kickoff to shopping for folks. It was more of a halfway point.”

A JC Penney department store seen above empty parking lots at Woodbridge Center Mall that remains closed due to the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey U.S., May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
A JC Penney department store seen above empty parking lots at Woodbridge Center Mall that remains closed due to the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Woodbridge Township, New Jersey U.S., May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Still, as retailers balance concerns around health and safety for their employees and customers, a focus on Black Friday may take a backseat.

“We're going to see a number of strategies and less of a focus on the single weekend this year,” Cullen said, “and more of a focus on a season of shopping.”

Read more: Top tips for spending this holiday season

Amazon was the first major player to ignite the change to a protracted shopping season with its Prime Day in October. Traditionally held in July but derailed by this year’s pandemic, Amazon shifted it’s two-day shopping extravaganza to mid-October and effectively advanced the holiday shopping season by six weeks as other retailers followed suit with similar 48-hour sales in the same time period.

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The sales previews and e-commerce shift doesn’t just serve better public health, it also helps “retailers hedge against shortages [and] shipping issues,” Nathan Burrow, editor at Wirecutter, told Yahoo Money.

Supply chains have been hobbled by the pandemic as systems weren’t prepared to process the sudden spike in demand for certain products. Beginning the shopping season earlier, Burrow explained, means the “mad rush over just a few days” can hopefully be mitigated.

Major retail destinations like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart revealed their Black Friday deals at the start of November with all three placing a greater emphasis on online deals than ever before and sales that extend throughout the 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
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 won’t fade into memory completely, in this year or any other. After all, Black Friday 2019 generated $7.4 billion in online sales and Cyber Monday followed-up with a staggering $9.4 billion, according to Adobe Analytics.

Black Friday still will draw the “biggest crowds of the year,” but foot traffic on November 27 will be “dramatically lighter” than last year, said Jan Rogers Kniffen, CEO of J Rogers Kniffen WorldWide.

Kniffen forecasts Black Friday to be “one of the biggest selling days of the year,” but couches his prediction that the scale won’t be quite like previous years and total sales will be 90% of last year’s sales. The number of retail stores open on Thanksgiving, doorbuster deals, and in-store sales won’t be “anything close to last year,” he said.

Read more: Top 5 predictions for post-pandemic travel from industry execs from the All Markets Summit

The only record that could be broken this year is total online sales, which have steadily siphoned sales from stores since online holiday shopping made its debut in 1999, Kniffen said.

Regardless of how customers shop, Kniffen’s advice is to get your shopping done sooner rather than later.

“Buy early, or for the first time in your life what you want may be gone,” he said. “Be careful about waiting for the very best deal.”

What will Black Friday deals look like?

A woman walks in the rain past Black Friday offers in a shop in central London on November 20, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
A woman walks in the rain past Black Friday offers in a shop in central London on November 20, 2020, as life under a second lockdown continues in England. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

Retailers will still want to woo customers into spending, so a variety of sought-after brands and products will be on sale.

“The good news is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday offer sales on nearly everything except items that see seasonal sales,” Burrow said.

Deals will range from the practical gifts like Dyson stick vacuums, Instant Pots, and robot vacuums to electronics from Apple, Google, and Bose, Burrow said. Sales on toys and games will also be available.

Read more: Retail CEOs offer up their 4 holiday shopping predictions

If you’re in the market for winter apparel, mattresses and bedding, and most outdoor gear, you’re better off waiting for the end of the winter season for those deals, Burrow said.

Even in 2020, the Black Friday phenomenon hubbub is tough to drown out, but Burrow advised against “believing the hype,” because retailers often artificially inflate prices to make deals appear steeper or more generous, especially for aging products or last-season models.

“The truth is,” he said, “that most Black Friday deals simply aren’t that good.”

Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.
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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