Retailers plan for a holiday selling season like no other
Despite uncertainties, analysts say sales could exceed previous years
Black Friday, traditionally the kickoff of the holiday selling season, is going to be a lot different this year.
Most national chains that had opened on Thanksgiving Day for the past several years to get a jump-start on sales are closed this year on turkey day. Even retail giant Walmart won’t open on Thursday— the first time it has closed on that day since the 1980s.
Retailers are still opening early Friday morning, but are doing so at a more reasonable hour. Gone are those midnight madness sales. Many stores are cutting back on hours over the weekend and are not having the nearly all-day shopping extravaganzas of past years.
Consumers are expected to be in stores and in shopping malls on Friday. But don’t expect huge crowds like those seen in prior years when shoppers stood in line for hours to grab the latest doorbuster deal. Instead, chains have been offering more Black Friday bargains throughout November— and some since October — where shoppers have been getting deals in stores and online.
Call it the pandemic version of Black Friday.
“This holiday season will be unlike any other,” said Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group.
Black Friday — so named for the day after Thanksgiving because decades ago it was the first day many retailers started making a profit and wound up in the black for the year — also can set the tone for how the rest of the shopping season will shape up.
This year as coronavirus cases accelerate, America’s retailers fear the pandemic and the possibility of states and cities re-imposing restrictions on businesses could spook customers just as the critically important holiday shopping season gets underway. Several experts believe holiday sales could be weaker this year and be heavily dependent on online shopping.
But the national retail group said this week that holiday sales could actually exceed growth seen in prior seasons, despite all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. It predicts sales for the November and December period will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total ranging between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.
The reason? Shoppers are looking for opportunities to spend and celebrate the holidays during tough times.
“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a betterthan-normal holiday,” Jack Kleinhenz, the retail group’s chief economist, said in a statement. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and
upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season.”
Households have strong balance sheets buoyed by a strong stock market, rising home values and record savings boosted by government stimulus payments issued earlier this year, Kleinhenz said. Reduced spending on personal services, travel and entertainment because of the virus has freed up money for retail spending, he added.
Heather Jo Maxey, a pediatric nurse who works at a Hanover County school, plans to shop on Black Friday with her sister, mother and grandmother. It has been a tradition among the women in the family to hit stores on Black Friday.
“We’re trying to be normal as we can be and still be safe,” the 32-year-old said. “We talked about it a lot and we decided [shopping on Black Friday] was safe enough to do it. Besides, it is always a good time. It is just all of the girls. We kind of make it a girls day out.”
Gary Weiner, president and CEO of family-owned Saxon Shoes, has worked Black Friday for decades, but he isn’t sure what to expect this year at the company’s two stores — in Short Pump Town Center in western Henrico County and in The Village at Spotsylvania Towne Centre in Fredericksburg — because of the pandemic.
“But we are prepared in the stores,” Weiner said, noting the company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August, has received thousands of new shoes for the fall and winter and
is buying merchandise for the spring.
To adapt to changing lifestyles brought on by the pandemic, Saxon Shoes this year created a department focused on slippers and socks as consumers continued to stay at home for work and school.
Marvin Snyder, the senior general manager at Short Pump Town Center, said he expects the mall will be busy on Friday and throughout the weekend based on the shopping center being “extremely busy” last weekend.
“It will be a little unique of a holiday season this year,” Snyder said. “First and foremost is the health and safety and well being of everyone who shops here at the center is paramount to us. People are going to be very conscious of interacting with other people in shopping at stores.”
Short Pump Town Center has an advantage over most other malls during the pandemic— it is an open-air shopping center. “Being an open air center is a benefit for us. Customers feel more comfortable coming to our center because of that,” he said.
Some of the mall’s tenants have restrictions on the number of customers that can be inside a store at any given time, meaning some shoppers may have to stand outside — socially distanced, of course — to wait to get inside.
Some of Short Pump’s retailers are using a Spot Holder waiting list app where shoppers put their name and telephone number into the app and are contacted when it is their turn
to enter the store. “Retailers are trying to come up with ways so people don’t have wait in lines,” Snyder said.
Increasing consumer anxiety about health and safety is already having an impact on holiday shopping plans, according to a survey conducted by consulting firm Deloitte.
For the first time since Deloitte has conducted its annual survey, more consumers said they plan to shop online (61%) than in-store (54%) on Black Friday to avoid crowds.
“As COVID-19 brings added health and financial concerns, both consumers and retailers are reimagining Thanksgiving shopping traditions,” Deloitte said in its report. “This Thanksgiving period, shoppers are interested in two things — getting a good deal on items and feeling safe — and this is driving significant changes in how they approach the season. Also, with nearly one-third of consumers not having firmly decided on where to shop for specific items, those retailers that prioritize safety precautions, for both the customer and employees, are likely to win this holiday season.”
Retailers are offering an increasing number of contactless options — including shopping online and picking up the sameday at stores or having the merchandise delivered — to get Black Friday deals.
“Our completely new approach to Black Friday is giving guests flexibility to safely get the best holiday deals on their own terms,” said Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at Target.
But getting an earlier start to gift buying as well as having Amazon.com move its Prime Day into October could hurt the financial bottom lines of some retailers.
Electronics retailer Best Buy, for instance, warned this week in its quarterly earnings release that demand could slow during the critical holiday season after Americans started shopping early amid the pandemic.
Sales at stores opened at least a year, also called same-store sales, rose 23% in the fiscal third quarter that ended on Nov. 2. That level of growth continued
this month, but won’t sustain the same rate going forward, the company said.