How Covid-19 Will Impact Black Friday


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When someone says “Black Friday” we normally think of giant crowds clogging shopping malls, shoppers camping outside their favorite stores in order to be the first in, doorbusters and ginormous discounts. But this year, most shoppers will be lounging on their couches with a coffee and laptop.

Why? The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing more and more activities to take place online, and shopping is not an exception. Many stores are implementing some mask, hygiene, and distance rules, along with temperature checks to keep employees and customers safer. Others have simply closed their physical fronts and moved entirely online.

How will the Covid 19 Pandemic change Black Friday 2020?

  • Most sales will be online
  • Sales will start earlier
  • Deals will be better, stores are trying to survive
  • People will visit fewer physical stores, to be safe
  • Inventory Shortages will happen, so order early
  • Delivery times will get longer, order early
  • Long lines for in store shopping due to crowd restrictions
  • Shift from gifting experiences to merchandise

So the traditional Black Friday chaos and crowds are out of the question this year. It’s now a question of how retailers will replicate the same experiences and profits that accompany the in-person craziness.

“It’s a real dilemma,” says Neil Saunders, the managing director of GlobalData Retail. “Black Friday has traditionally been about getting as many people into the store as you possibly can. Now they have to restrict numbers.” 

The idea of a "traditional doorbuster sale where you have throngs of people waiting outside fighting for deals seems completely alien," says Nate Shenck, managing director of North American retail at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Many major retailers have already announced that they will remain closed on Thanksgiving Day (the day before Black Friday), a reversal of a common trend which has been growing steadily in the past decade—see the Black Friday overview post for details about the history of Black Friday. These stores include Walmart, Target, Dick's, Kohl's, Best Buy, and others.

Another surprising change is the new, earlier start to the holiday shopping season. Ordinally, Black Friday represents the official start of the season—but this year several stores have already extended through October!

Target, for example, is widening the holiday season to try to prevent crowds, giving shoppers a huge window during which all the holiday deals will be available. As they said on their website: “Historically, deal hunting and holiday shopping can mean crowded events, and this isn’t a year for crowds. That’s why our biggest holiday deals will be available earlier than ever, so you can shop safely and conveniently without worrying about missing out on deals that usually come later in the season.” They are now starting the holiday season in October, before Halloween.

In fact, in light of the growing reliance on online shopping, Target added pickup and delivery services for 20,000 products, and they’re not alone. Many retailers are promising more and better online services, from easy curbside pick-up to speedy shipping. "To meet our customers’ changing lives this holiday, we’re enhancing the way we fulfill orders, from offering more convenient pick-up options at our stores, to making sure orders arrive at the right time," the store promised. Macy’s has also rolled out a new curbside pick-up scheme during the pandemic.

Here’s one more cool idea which has blossomed during the pandemic. Did you know there are virtual try-on rooms for apparel? Many retailers have been investing in creating virtual try-on rooms for customers who wish to try on apparel but don’t want to visit the store in-person. Apps like Zeekit use phone cameras and AI to let users “try on” apparel. What’s more, studies show that these virtual try-on rooms increase customer purchases and decrease returns by large amounts!

However, retailers also have to support the customers who don’t want to or can’t use a virtual try-on app. One common solution many retailers have implemented is outdoor shopping, whether it be outdoor markets, parking lot pop-ups, or sidewalk stalls—there are lots of options to help customers feel safe in person.

But going back to Black Friday, most stores rely on shoppers physically coming into the store—the idea being that you come in for one item, but leave with many more. This Black Friday rush is much harder to implement online.

It's about "figuring out how to reach the customer in the most valuable segments and being creative in how you reach them," Nate Shenck from BCG said. This could include focusing more on influencer campaigns and social media or offering more bundle offers online to replicate the in-store purchasing of extra items in the Black Friday rush.

Another tactic could be “offering exclusivity,” where only one retailer has a specific item in stock (of course discounted). "This might be a big sell because of the problems with the supply chain this year," Shenck said.

Some of these changes are provoked in response to competitors. For example, Amazon has delayed Prime Day in the US and have not yet announced a replacement date. Prime Day normally happens in July, but according to CNBC Amazon is now thinking about holding it in October. Whatever date they settle on, analysts say the change will put more pressure on competitors to offer their best holiday deals much earlier. Specifically, if retailers are being forced to shift more and more online, many customers may prefer Amazon online services over the retailer’s.


Start shopping early and help keep the economy going. Of course, all these events are set against the backdrop of the global recession, meaning shoppers will likely have less desire to splurge during the holiday season.

Do you have any previous Black Friday experiences or opinions on what this year’s will look like? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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