Black Friday is different in the era of COVID-19.
Sales started earlier. Shopping is shifting even more to online from brick-and-mortar stores because of the pandemic. Some families are putting experiences and safety over traditional gift-giving.
And the holiday season has arrived as the nation struggles with economic uncertainty and high unemployment.
These and other factors will make Black Friday a new experience this year.
Doorbuster deals to attract in-person shopping the day after Thanksgiving still will be happening across Southwest Florida. But many of those stores also will be migrating some of their deals online. This will meet the demands of consumers, business and shopping experts said.
“One thing that is happening and has been happening for a while, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” said Amir Neto, an assistant professor of economics at FGCU. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”
Black Friday, while not doing completely away with the in-store deals, also could start to resemble its online counterpart, “Cyber Monday,” which is the first Monday after Thanksgiving.
“These are two important days for the consumer,” Neto said. “They save money waiting for these specific dates. They’re waiting for retailers to give them something more. Consumers have the expectation that on those particular days, they’re going to get a better deal. They will shift their consumption to those days. Retailers are relying more on their online component. People can still shop on Thanksgiving Day with website deals. I think that’s what’s happening right now.”
Major retailers such as Best Buy, Target and Home Depot are offering deals throughout November to get shoppers spending early and keep them coming after Thanksgiving.
Maura Scott, a marketing professor at Florida State University, said factors related to COVID-19 would both push and pull at the volume of shopping.
“On one hand, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has resulted in decreased in-person contact with loved ones,” Scott said. “Some consumers may feel the need to purchase gifts to express the love toward family and friends, which they cannot currently express through in-person interactions.”
Research on mortality salience (awareness that people are dying from COVID-19), has been shown to trigger an increase in indulgent consumption, she said.
“On the other hand, there is a great deal of uncertainty due to social and political factors, in the U.S. and around the world,” Scott said. “To the extent that people feel uncertain about the future, they may have a desire to hunker down and save their money. Thus, there are opposing forces at work that may influence household spending, and these represent just a few of those.
“One thing that may stay the same is that people will want to express love to the important people in their lives. Research in consumer psychology suggests that experiential purchases can provide greater happiness than material ones. Therefore, individuals may consider gifts that relate to creating memories and traditions.”
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Scott gave the example of a gingerbread house competition or making hand-made holiday decorations.
“Then they can share their creations with socially distant loved ones via Zoom, FaceTime, or similar technology,” Scott said. “Holiday decorations such as wreaths could be created as a family activity, then delivered to loved ones via social distancing.”
Scott’s comments mirrored results from the National Retail Federation’s annual report, which projects the average American household to spend $997.79 on “gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and additional ‘non-gift’ purchases for themselves and their families.”
While overall spending in these categories is down by about $50 from last year, nearly all ($45) of the decrease comes from consumers’ hesitation to use seasonal sales and promotions to buy other, non-gift purchases for themselves and their families, the report said.
Still, consumer spending on gifts is on par with last year, decreasing by only about $8, while per person spending on other holiday items like decorations is actually up slightly. Expected spending remains significantly higher than the five-year average for both those categories. The holiday season is top of mind, with 42 percent saying they planned to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41 percent in November.
“Black Friday” deals are already happening at Miromar Outlets off I-75 and Corkscrew Road in Estero, vice president Jeff Staner said.
“Many of our stores have been offering Black Friday deals since after Halloween, and we’ve seen a lot of shoppers taking advantage of them,” he said. “There are great deals and doorbusters planned for Black Friday. Some of our retailers are offering storewide markdowns up to 70%. That’s on top of prices that are already 30 to 70% off retail. There are also buy-one, get-one deals and free-gift-with-purchase offers that include jewelry, brand apparel and accessories.”
COVID-19 has changed some of Miromar’s plans.
For the first time in 13 years, the outlet will not be hosting “Before Midnight at Miromar,” Staner said of a Thanksgiving Day tradition.
“We are closed Thanksgiving Day and will open at 6 a.m. Black Friday until 9 p.m. for 15 hours of shopping,” he said. “Mall-wide, we continue to follow stringent CDC (Center for Disease Control) protocols, which include enhanced disinfecting and cleaning for restrooms and public areas, touchless hand sanitizers throughout and signs reminding shoppers to maintain social distancing and follow other safety standards.”
Each store is responsible for implementing its own procedures, Staner said, but they have been doing responsible jobs.
“Many require face masks, have limited the number of customers allowed in the store at any given time and are managing the flow inside to enhance social distancing,” Staner said.
The Edison Mall in Fort Myers also will be closed Thanksgiving Day. It will reopen from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Black Friday.
“While the holidays may look a little different this year, we are committed to providing a safe and entertaining holiday focused on creating a long lasting community connection,” Edison Mall marketing director John Scherlacher said.
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).