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Pandemic Could Give Black Friday Shopping A Different Feel This Year

Best Buy is a popular shopping spot for Black Friday deals.

Best Buy is a popular shopping spot for Black Friday deals. (Pat Beane/WTIU)

Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving - is traditionally the beginning of the biggest shopping weekend of the year.

Customers will line up for hours, waiting for stores to open to rush in and find the best deals possible.

But with COVID-19 ravaging the nation and the emergence over the past decade of online shopping, Black Friday is beginning to have a different feel.

John Talbott, the Director for Center for Research and Education in Retail at Indiana University, still expects some of the typical frenzied shopping this holiday season.

“We may see some lines, but I would hope that they're socially distance and masks, and I think that retailers are trying to be responsible in terms of how many people they let into the stores, you know, social distances within stores.”

The pandemic has shown the importance of e-commerce. Most big box stores had already seen their online purchases grow over the past few years.

So when COVID-19 hit, they were prepared. But the growth online shopping has seen was not expected for some time.

“What's happened during the pandemic is that the percentage of sales and e-commerce is now at a spot that most people didn't expect it to be in until 2030,” Talbott said. “So, we've moved 10 years into the future, in terms of penetration of e-commerce relative to physical stores.”

The allure of shopping in person on Black Friday was already waning with online shopping on the rise. Plus opening stores for shopping on Thanksgiving was perceived as wrong by some.

This year, Wal-Mart and Kohls announced they were closing on Thanksgiving and beginning their Black Friday specials the following day. Some businesses, such as Target and Best Buy, have already begun offering Black Friday deals.

“I think that that's something that they're trying to do to sort of position themselves as a time for people to enjoy family, of course, now, we have to be careful with that as well,” Talbott said.

While online shopping is becoming more the norm, businesses aren’t giving up on physical stores. The benefit of actually seeing and touching what you’re buying still matters to some consumers.

“Companies that had physical stores have figured out how to use those in combination to really create the best experience, because some advantages of stores, touching, you know, personal interactions with consumers,” Talbott said. “And so I saw a lot of retail companies kind of advantaging that and learning how to actually differentiate themselves from Amazon, because of the fact that they had physical stores.”

One side effect of the pandemic – and the recent trade wars - has been disruptions in the supply chains and how much stores are keeping on the shelves. Talbott says retailers are focused on keeping the hot items stocked, but has this advice:

“If you're a parent with a young kid with an expectation of having a certain object, then I would buy it when you see it as opposed to trying to wait for the best price because when it's gone, it's gone.”

But be it online or in person, the pandemic doesn’t appear to be slowing down consumer spending at retail stores.

“The National Retail Federation expects that overall retail sales on a per person spending, our household spending will not be far off of where it was from last year,” Talbott said.

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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