Holiday Shopping Moves to the Couch, Mostly: Black Friday Update

With sparse crowds and none of the stampedes of holidays past, some retail watchers started to refer to Black Friday asBlasé Friday instead — and that was even before the virus hit.

The sluggish in-person traffic reported in 2019 is only expected to thin out further this year, as mall-wary shoppers trade in midnight doorbusters for digital deals. But don’t let the shift to online shopping fool you: It’s still shaping up to be a record year for holiday retail sales (and thelogistics companies that’ll deliver them.)

Not everyone will emerge a winner. Off-price department stores that eschew e-commerce to rely on the in-person “treasure hunt” experience will likely see a tough season. So will some small business without a strong online presence, though a push to buy local this year will offer some relief. But for those big retailers who’ve handily mastered online ordering and fulfillment, it’s going to be a very merry Christmas indeed.

Here’s a look at the latest information available on Black Friday spending in the U.S., with all time stamps reflecting the U.S. East Coast:

Black Friday Started Weeks, If Not Months, Ago (12:01 a.m.)

Let’s be honest: Black Friday hasn’t been a single day in a long time. For years now, retailers have been rolling out deals earlier and earlier, and this year was no exception. Many companies started their holiday promotions online in October.

That has pulled forward some sales that would normally be made this weekend. Adobe Analytics, which tracks online spending in the U.S., had said Thursday morning that online sales on Thanksgiving Day would hit an all-time high of $6 billion. But the Thanksgiving Day pace hasn’t been as brisk as it thought, and revised its outlook in the evening to less than $6 billion.

“Retailers of all sizes appear to have successfully moved shoppers to buy earlier in the season with early discounts and effective promotions,” it said in an email, noting that Thanksgiving Day sales were still expected to increase as the night progressed.

Americans who aren’t visiting family also seem to be shopping more. According to Adobe, online sales growth was 47% higher in states where gatherings of people from outside immediate households are prohibited.

In-Person Shopping Will Look a Lot Different (12:01 a.m.)

For those Americans who do choose to shop on Friday in the flesh, it’s going to be a much different shopping experience.Walmart Inc. has said it will limit the number of customers inside its stores to just 20% of usual capacity as the threat of the coronavirus looms over this holiday shopping season.

Other changes to the in-store setup include sanitized carts and directions to help shoppers avoid one another when browsing, Walmartsaid earlier this fall.

At rival Target Corp., another pandemic winner, in-person shoppers encountering a line to get inside can reserve a spot and get atext when it’s their time to enter.

Local, Minority-Owned Stores May Get a Boost (12:01 a.m.)

Three quarters of American consumers plan to shop at businesses whose values line up with their own, a study from Mastercard SpendingPulseshowed.

Consumers say they will prefer to spend at local establishments and those owned by minorities and women, according to the survey, conducted online from Oct. 8 to Oct. 13. And just over half of those interviewed said they’d prefer no gift at all over receiving one from a retailer whose views differ from their own.

The study indicates that rapid change in shopping habits, fueled in part by this year’s global pandemic and unrest related to racial inequality, have staying power. While it’s not unusual for younger generations of consumers to make a political statement with their shopping list, that trend is now widening to new demographics, according to Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard and former chief executive officer of Saks Inc.

— With assistance by Leslie Patton

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