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COVID-19 Has Retailers Nudging Black Friday Shoppers Online

Don’t look now, but Black Friday – historically the busiest shopping day of the year – actually started three weeks ago at websites everywhere. At a time when the coronavirus has already changed so many aspects of our daily lives, a revision of this post-Thanksgiving retail tradition only makes sense.

As far as in-store shopping is concerned, Walmart signed the doorbuster’s death certificate in July when it announced that it would not open its stores on Thanksgiving Day. That prompted the overwhelming majority of big-box retailers to follow suit, except for a few dollar stores and the major pharmacy chains.

Instead of opening on Thanksgiving, Walmart has been promoting a plan to “spread out the savings” from a single day to three events held throughout November, both in-store and online. The chain is also limiting capacity to 20 percent in most of its stores.

Target is also limiting the number of shoppers inside its stores – and outside, too. A new “Save Your Spot” program Target unveiled this year should reduce the lines of people waiting to get into the chain’s physical stores.

“For the health of our guests and team members, we’re currently limiting the number of guests inside our stores,” Target said on its website. “We’d still love to see you, so we made it a little easier to get in line. Search for stores near you, then select ‘Save Your Spot. We’ll hold a place in line for you.”

Meanwhile, Best Buy has also been pointing customers online during the pandemic, saying that “this year, we’re doing Black Friday all season long.”

But for those shoppers who just can’t stay home, Best Buy said it is limiting in-store traffic, maintaining proper social distancing and requiring all customers and employees to wear face coverings at all times. In addition, it will ask in-person shoppers to “check in” when they arrive.

“When arriving at the store, look for a Best Buy host in an orange vest near the ‘Check in Here’ sign prior to getting in line,” the company’s website reads, adding that shoppers will then be assigned to the correct team to meet their specific needs.

Even online shopping giant Amazon – which operates about 500 brick-and-mortar bookstores and “4-Star” locations – is getting into the act on controlling in-store access. Amazon has said both chains will be closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. But at the same time, Amazon has extended its Prime Day sales event and expanded Black Friday to a week-long event that started a week early.

“We’re continuing the season of savings and dropping Black Friday deals every day through [Nov. 27],” Amazon’s site said. “Get ahead of the holiday bustle and don’t miss out on these deals. They’ll go fast.”

Not Just Retailers Are Reacting

The pandemic has not only pulled the start of the holiday shopping season forward and blurred it, but it’s also seen a number of manufacturers bypassing retailers and going direct to consumers with their own special sales and promotions.

For example, Apple and Samsung are both actively tempting device buyers with “Black Friday” deals, even though those aren’t technically one-day events.

Government Guidance: Avoid Shopping in Crowds

Although the actual Black Friday is still a week away, state and local government restrictions and regulations are changing by the day in response to the pandemic’s resurgence.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week advised people not to travel for Thanksgiving, and to only celebrate the holiday with people in the household. The agency also listed “shopping” at the top of its list of high-risk activities.

“Avoid these higher-risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” the CDC website reads, noting that one risky behavior is “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving.”

And that’s not just advice to U.S. consumers. France has asked retailers to postpone Black Friday sales events while the country completes a month-long lockdown.

Experts say that’s wise.

“Given that we are at a very high level of new cases, that means the virus’ presence is everywhere,” Chunhuei Chi, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University, told one news outlet. “I know there will be people who still want to shop, [but] personally, I would not shop on Black Friday.”

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