This year, the Friday after Thanksgiving will be like any other Friday of the year.
The adjective “black,” which for decades gave vim to its designation as the unofficial launch of the holiday shopping season, now seems to suggest a gangrenous rot that’s knocked it right off the retail industry’s calendar.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 49% of Americans plan to scrap their Black Friday participation, according to a new research by data intelligence company Morning Consult. Only 14% say they’ll go shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, while 41% plan to shop online.
The pandemic has shifted the tone of consumerism in the United States, and Black Friday as it has been observed in years past is expected to be another casualty. The days of camping out overnight in retail parking lots, running around with printouts of store floor plans, and getting into fist fights with other shoppers are over.
“The share of Americans planning to rely more on Cyber Monday than Black Friday has been on the rise since early September,” says Victoria Sakal, Morning Consult’s managing director of brand Intelligence. “This is due to both pandemic-related discomfort shopping in stores, with a 27% increase in the share of Americans citing this as the reason for their increased reliance on Cyber Monday, as well as pandemic-induced increases in comfort with shopping online.”
Retailers are doing what they can to make the brick-and-mortar shopping experience palatable. Mask wearing and social distancing are now standard at businesses big and small. Also, throw in plexiglass dividers, store associates assigned to wipe down shopping carts, and one-way traffic-directing arrows pasted on floors.
In addition to health concerns, consumers are wary of stores running out of products (lessons learned from disinfectant wipes, applied now to popular toys) and of an overtaxed delivery system, both the traditional services and the USPS.
As strong a drive as capitalism is—even the overindulgent strain found in America—it’s not calling the shots for Black Friday 2020. This is the year for neither holiday splurging nor the adrenaline rush of bargain-hunting.
“Fear is a huge motivator, so it’s overriding the impulse,” explains Charles Lindsey, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Buffalo. “Black Friday isn’t dead. It moved earlier.”
Sales have been popping up for weeks now, so he expects consumers to spend less this Black Friday. Americans are not only watching their wallets due to job loss, furloughs, reduced work hours, or concerns that any of those three could come their way, but also avoiding the impulse buying that happens in brick-and-mortar stores.
“It’s the perfect storm. All bets are off. Throw all forecasting models out the window,” Lindsey says. “People have come back to reality this season . . . There’s a big-time countervailing force that’s putting a big dent into the holiday consumer materialism mindset, that we love deals and that it’s exciting.”
‘Trying to be smart’
For years, Marcus Merritt was a dedicated Black Friday shopper—heading out with his family to snag bargains, waiting outside the doors of big-box retailers to be among the first in the door, assigning various relatives different lines to stand in and scoop up hourly deals they knew in advance that they wanted. But 2020 will be different.
“I’m trying to be smart with [the] spread of the virus. Black Friday is big crowds. That’s the one thing we don’t want to do,” says Merritt, a 33-year-old Atlanta real estate investor. “Whether you’re wearing masks or not, it’ll be hard to be six feet apart when you’re in crowds. Even if you’re constantly trying to disinfect and wash your hands, people will still be touching stuff.”
Charles Lindsey, University of Buffalo
All bets are off. Throw all forecasting models out the window.”
Instead, he relied on early online sales to buy holiday gifts for his friends and family, like AirPods, a 50-inch TV from Amazon Prime Day, and a kitchenware set from Target.com. His Black Friday budget is around $500.
“We’re all readjusting to the new normal,” Merritt explains. “Halloween, I stayed home. The Fourth of July was very low-key, just at home with my immediate family. Memorial Day, I didn’t do anything crazy. Black Friday will definitely be a little different.”