Will Black Friday 2020 Survive COVID-19?

Black Friday spending has steadily increased in recent years, escalating between 17.7% and 49% each year going back to 2016. The lone exception is last year’s Black Friday and Thanksgiving shopping period in which aggregate online spending totals dropped 7.5% on a year-over-year basis.

However, online sales tell only half the story. The other half is told by in-store sales figures. It should come as no surprise when this year’s brick-and-mortar retail sales numbers significantly decline from years past. However, businesses are going to great extremes to convince virus-wary consumers to venture into traditional stores for in-person shopping.

2020 Black Friday Vs. 2019 Black Friday

Let’s rewind time back to year of 2019. The world was such a safer place merely one year ago! The economy was firing on all cylinders, unemployment was low, and life was good. My, oh my, how things have changed in one year’s time.

It is highly unlikely last year’s in-store sales figures will be replicated this year. In fact, the total number of in-store sales might drop to two-thirds or even worse than that of last year simply because the coronavirus lurks quite ominously, albeit invisibly.

Let’s take a closer look at last year’s numbers to get a sense of what would constitute a retail sales success in 2020. Americans went all-out last year, spending more in traditional brick-and-mortar stores than ever before. Though online sales across the period of Thanksgiving and Black Friday slightly dipped as noted above, Black Friday was quite the stand-alone success story. Last year’s brick-and-mortar Black Friday sales were up more than 4% from the year prior. Fortune reports shoppers spent $6.9 billion across Black Friday and the ensuing weekend in ’19.

It is quite possible the coronavirus pandemic will cause Black Friday spending at conventional brick-and-mortar stores to significantly decline. Most big box retailers have slightly pivoted toward online sales, ensuring any shortfall in sales at traditional stores will be at least partially made up through online shopping. However, we are currently mired in an economic trough that has the potential to last all the way through the spring when an effective coronavirus vaccine will be available to the masses. This means consumers are hesitant to spend money, even if it is discretionary income. The one-two punch of the pandemic and economic recession will likely prove quite vicious for in-store sales.

How are Businesses Preparing for Black Friday During the Pandemic?

This is the first and possibly last Black Friday to occur smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic. Savvy business owners and managers have planned ahead. As mentioned above, the top retailers have created online marketplaces, empowering customers to shop from the comfort of a virus-free home. However, snagging the best deals in-person at brick-and-mortar retail stores has become a late November tradition in the land of the free. Virus or no virus, millions of Americans will find their way to local stores this Friday, risking life and limb to buy gifts for family and also splurge on themselves.

While Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club and Best Buy are closed on Thanksgiving this year, these retail powerhouses will be open on Black Friday. Walmart’s recently launched Walmart+ provides shoppers with the opportunity to bypass interpersonal interactions at traditional stores yet Target and several other retailers are touting incredibly low prices for in-store items.

Some such retailers are stocking up on protective face coverings to distribute to the mask-less waiting in line this Friday, albeit in a socially distanced manner, for prompt entry into retail locations across the country. There will be limited in-store events in an attempt to minimize the number of people hovering within feet of one another in an enclosed shopping facility. In short, Black Friday will look significantly different in 2020 compared to the years gone by.

Is Safe Shopping Possible During the Pandemic?

Though some smaller retailers might close their doors this year in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus to their employees, customers and others, the vast majority of stores will be open on Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend, all the way through Christmas and beyond. Some stores will set strict occupancy limits, possibly resorting to socially distanced lines outside of shopping centers to limit the number of people within enclosed shopping spaces in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.

In other words, the days of the Black Friday door-busting stampedes are clearly in the rearview mirror, at least for a year. This year’s shopping experience will be comparably civil and tame in all regards, a much-appreciated change for the majority of shoppers who have grown tired of competing with fellow discount-seekers for rock-bottom prices on limited inventory.

Will This Year’s Shopping be by Appointment?

Some retailers might even go to the extent of requiring shoppers to schedule a shopping time slot in order to gain access to in-store specials. These bargain hunters will surely find an abundance of hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes at store entrances, both of which will play a critically important role in keeping shoppers healthy during the pandemic.

The moral of this story is our economy will continue chugging along in spite of the fact that we are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Retail store doors will be open this Black Friday. The only question is how many customers will be waiting in line.

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