What Will Black Friday Look Like During a Pandemic?



It’s hard to imagine the typical Black Friday craziness—the fights, pushing, shoving, jockeying for optimal line placement, surrounding a store hours before it’s open—taking place this year. Though small, independent retailers don’t experience the door-busting, borderline dangerous antics of the public (yes, I’m generalizing, and yes, I’m jaded from my 10 years working at a big-box toy store and major clothing outlet), this holiday is going to look strikingly different.


With all the social distancing mandates in place, can you even picture crowds of people piled on top of each other, waiting their turn to dig through already-picked over items? And, knowing that most stores will have to limit their capacity and monitor the flow of people in and out, are shoppers willingly going to wait outside any longer than they have when an e-commerce marketplace that’s just as—if not more—comprehensive that can be accessed from pretty much any smart device in their house?


Primarily, it’s all going to be about bumping Cyber Monday up a few days and focusing on promoting and capitalizing on online sales. This change likely won’t be exclusive to 2020, either. Experts believe the higher amount of online sales and e-commerce is here to stay, and will be the focus of Black Friday going forward. It’s all about more convenience and less face-to-face interaction. 


Consequently, some of the big box brands anticipated this shift in purchasing mediums and have made empty gestures in order to account for the lack of in-store sales they’re going to experience. Wal-Mart’s a prime example of this—a few weeks ago the company announced its stores wouldn’t be opening on the Thursday night before, as a thank you to its associates for all their hard work through the pandemic. On paper that’s a nice concept, but where has that attitude been the past several years? In reality, the conglomerate understands that opening early will likely have the stores functioning at a deficit for the night as people aren’t going to be jumping at the chance to pack together for hours outside a store while an airborne virus is floating about.


Really, though, none of this is surprising, because even in non-pandemic times the jammed parking lots and crowded malls have been tapering off as people kept their stretch pants on, recovered from the feast they consumed the day before and opened their laptops to shop.


This is where retailers have to get creative, because the lack of people out and about will severely diminish window-shopping. Independents notably don’t have the online sales capacity as corporate chains (though they’ve made impressive strides), so the fight is on to think of compelling marketing strategies to draw people in-stores. Pictures with Santa is always a classic, while forward-facing promotions that that are only redeemable during the Black Friday weekend are tempting in their own right.


Just like with everything else this year, it’s hard to predict and retailers have to stay on their toes, having plans A, B and C prepared and ready-to-go at a moment’s notice. Those that are able to anticipate the changes and make the holiday shopping season memorable and positive (easier said than done, I know) will find the most profits and set themselves up for success for years to come.


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