(TBEN Detroit) – COVID-19 will have a drastic effect on Black Friday this year, just like it has on everything else. Some of these effects can already be seen in the expanded holiday shopping season, which has been running since mid-October. Other effects will become more evident over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
Once upon a time, Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, the start of the holiday shopping season. The name is derived from the day when retailers saw their balance sheets go from red to black. According to Jie Zhang, professor of marketing and retail management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, “Legend has it that retailers work their heads for much of the year, and that’s just the start of the vacation. the shopping season, that is, the Friday after Thanksgiving, that they turn black. So they turn from red to black, which means that this is the first day they will start making a profit. Obviously, this is not precise at all.
The holiday shopping season has been getting longer for some time. In recent years, offers reserved for Black Friday and beyond have popped up earlier in November. And this year, holiday shopping seemed to be in full swing before Halloween. We can thank Amazon for this.
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“Amazon basically kicked off the holiday shopping season with its Prime Day, moved to October 13 and 14,” says Zhang. “And that, in essence, is like an unofficial kickoff to this year’s holiday shopping season. Not only Amazon, but several major retailers offered their own deals on the exact same day or around the same time. And soon after, many other retailers followed suit. So they started offering holiday deals or, as they call them, Black Friday deals or Black Friday type deals, even before Halloween. “
The strong push to extend the holiday shopping season makes a lot of sense. Prime Day has already helped kick off the back-to-school shopping season in late July. But then there was a lot of uncertainty about what form schooling would take. Would the children really go back to school? So far, the school year has been a mix of school and distance learning, with more children being totally estranged as the pandemic continues.
Lately, the number of COVID cases has apparently broken records on a daily basis. Much of the country remains largely confined to the home, or at least minimizes their exposure to the outside world as much as possible. It means less shopping in stores and more online shopping. It’s another long-term trend – with retail shifting from the store to the online store – that COVID has accelerated. But how will it play out on the biggest shopping day of the year?
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For many, the Black Friday shopping experience is a highlight of the holiday season. “Many consumers have a family tradition of shopping on Black Friday, for fun, for excitement and for social experience,” says Zhang. “But, with a pandemic on the rise in the country and around the world, and with concern for safety and health remaining on consumers’ minds, many of these consumers are going to cut back and choose to stay home or to shop online go to stores. It’s definitely one thing that will make this coming Friday very different from what we’ve seen in the past.
“In-store retailers or retailers that focus primarily on physical operations aren’t just throwing in the towel and giving up the fight,” Zhang continues. “They are doing everything they can to try to get at least a few buyers into the store.”
But what physical stores can do to attract customers is severely limited by the ongoing COVID crisis. “They drastically reduce their volume,” says Zhang. “For example, in shopping malls, we know that every year many malls welcome Santa Claus, taking pictures with Santa Claus, as a way to attract families to the mall. And, of course, that traffic will trickle down to their retail tenants. And this year, some shopping centers have decided to cancel it. Others offer virtual events, such as a virtual meeting with Santa Claus. “
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A virtual meeting, by definition, is not in person and does not equate to traffic in stores. “Still, they’re still a part of that, combined with an increased offer of online ordering and in-store or curbside pickup,” Zhang continues. “And it’s a way, first of all, to meet the growing demand online. And second, try to divert some traffic to the store, even briefly. “
For shoppers who show up, they’ll likely find the experience a little more dull than usual. According to Zhang, “In-store retailers should improve their safety and hygiene measures, crowd control, ensure employees and customers keep a good distance… basically the common sense measures that we have observed from the beginning. of the pandemic. And I think the public has become more educated and aware of the need – and the business as well – of the need for good security measures.
All of this assumes that stores and malls are allowed to remain open in the face of the rising number of COVID cases. The country recorded 1,707 deaths on Tuesday, the highest total in six months. The national death toll has exceeded 250,000, and most states have seen cases increase this week. Parts of the country could be heading into another lockdown situation, which would shut down non-essential stores, like the ones where people shop for vacation.
“At the start of the pandemic, shopping malls were among the first types of facilities to be closed and have been kept closed the longest,” says Zhang. “So we don’t know how this aspect will develop and if some shopping centers will not even be able to stay open. This will obviously have an impact on all stores located in shopping centers. “
While Black Friday this year, if it does happen, will not carry the spirit of the season like it did in previous years, the experience is not gone forever. A widely administered vaccine would, in theory, put an end to the pandemic. If that happens in time for the next holiday shopping season, Black Friday could make a comeback.
“Suppose the pandemic is over, vaccines are widely available, people don’t care about safety and health,” Zhang speculates. “I think Black Friday type events, in-store events will pick up again, because after all, there are big social components to shopping. And a lot of people really enjoy the social shopping experience, especially on special occasions like Black Friday. Like I said, many buyers actually have this family tradition, not necessarily to grab the best deals, but just that rush, that excitement and to enjoy it with their loved ones.