Black Friday shopping is different this year, being “reinvented”

There won’t be any news videos of overly aggressive eager bargain hunters storming the front doors of retail businesses on Black Friday this year. In 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, the day is being “reinvented” to accommodate the guidelines of mitigating the virus.

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is one of the biggest shopping days of the year for retail sales. It is regarded as the start of the Christmas shopping season. The name comes from the sales volume of the day when retailers see positive earnings and profits “in the black.” So, in a year when many small businesses and larger ones, too, are struggling to hang on during on and off lockdowns, this year’s holiday season is an especially important one.

Many businesses are beginning to lobby for a status change from being labeled as a non-essential business to an essential business. Their logic is good, frankly. State and local governments are choosing winners and losers when they shut down cities and states to some retail businesses but not others. Sometimes it looks as though there is no rhyme or reason to the decisions being made. For example, early on in the coronavirus pandemic, businesses critical to maintaining citizens’ basic needs like health care services, grocery stores, home improvement stores, and gas stations, were declared essential. It’s logical that these were chosen to make the cut. Malls, gyms, movie theaters, and bars were determined to be non-essential businesses in order to stop the spread of the virus. What this logic ignores, though, is that any business can stay open and use the standard coronavirus guidelines. This includes mom and pop shops as well as big-box stores. The lockdowns have killed off many small businesses already. Shouldn’t those hanging on by a thread now be able to open up and have the opportunity to make enough sales to stay afloat? One example of a retailer that has been a loser during shutdowns is Macy’s.

Macy’s, for example, was deemed a “non-essential” business at the onset of the pandemic and closed its stores. The retailer lost sales to businesses that sold groceries and other everyday items like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Costco, which were allowed to remain open.

Macy’s still has not fully recovered: Sales at stores open for at least one year dropped 21% during the 13 weeks ending October 30 compared with the same stretch last year, Macy’s said Thursday. The retailer’s big-box rivals and Amazon have grown in recent months.

On a call with analysts Thursday, Macy’s CEO Jeffrey Gennette said the retailer was working with local and state leaders to ensure coronavirus safety measures were in place and urged officials to remove the distinction between essential and non-essential retailers.

“We don’t believe the designation of essential and non-essential should play in retail. We believe you either have a safe environment or not,” he said. “You should be held accountable to health and safety standards.”

There is no reason why safety measures and protocols can’t be in place and allow retail stores now deemed non-essential to re-open or remain open despite lockdowns.

Big box stores like Target and Walmart are reinventing Black Friday to expand the day into several days of sales. The surge of online sales during the pandemic makes it easier for the brick and mortar stores to accommodate the coronavirus guidelines. Many stores are closing this year on Thanksgiving, giving their employees the day at home and reducing their health risks.

Scott McCall, Walmart U.S. executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, said in a recent interview with USA TODAY that more online offers makes for a “safer and more convenient way to shop” and helps manage in-store traffic.

“The doorbuster deals will be online, but we’re also going to have great prices in-store,” McCall said.

Merchants are trying to be optimistic about what their sales might be if allowed to be open.

“In terms of the traditional shopping on Black Friday with massive crowds,” Bill Thorne with the National Retail Federation, explained, “I don’t think you’re going to see that. But people are going to shop Black Friday.”

“Their expectations are pretty optimistic. Will it be the same as they’ve seen in the past? We’ll see,” Thorne said.

Target is going all out to accommodate shoppers, advertising sales all month and also closing their stores on Thanksgiving Day.

Target continues to roll out its Black Friday deals throughout the month. From now until Nov. 21, the store will offer discounts on electronics, apparel and beauty products. Between Nov. 22 and 28, shoppers can find deals on toys, kitchen, floorcare and electronics, including video games and select consoles.

In addition to mask requirements and social distancing, the store will enact new safety measures for the holiday shopping season. Shoppers will be able to check the store’s website to see if there’s a line outside their local store and to reserve a spot in line. Contactless payments will be allowed for customers. Employees will also help checkout shoppers anywhere throughout the store on mobile devices.

“We’re taking a completely new approach to Black Friday, giving guests more flexibility and ensuring they can plan ahead for a safe, stress-free shopping experience,” Christina Hennington, the executive vice president and chief merchandising officer of Target, said.

Target stores will close on Thanksgiving Day and will open for normal store hours on Black Friday, according to the Star Tribune.

Other countries are testing ways to hold holiday sales while allowing both small and big businesses to compete. In France, Amazon is complying with President Macron’s mandate to postpone Black Friday sales until December 4. This will give local shopkeepers struggling through national lockdowns to compete with the mega-giant retailer for sales. The French Finance Minister says the postponement will “level the playing field.”

To level the playing field, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire this week called on supermarkets and online retailers to postpone Black Friday, which runs from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29, as shops selling non-essential goods would have to remain closed during lockdown.

Competition from Amazon first prompted European retailers to adopt the U.S. tradition of making Black Friday – the day after U.S. Thanksgiving – the kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

Amazon France Chief Executive Frederic Duval said on Thursday the company would push the event back to Dec. 4, joining other retailers such as European market leader Carrefour and France’s Leclerc.

Black Friday shopping will be different this year but it will likely continue in years to come. Thorne believes there is an appetite to keep the annual sales event going with American shoppers.

“If they decide they think that Black Friday can be done in a better way, they’re going to do in a better way and if that means without the thousands of people crowded around in stores, then you’re not going to see that,” he said.

Losing the madness of customers storming through the glass doors of a store is probably a good thing. Let’s hope the smaller businesses get to reopen and compete this year, too.

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