With sparse crowds and none of the stampedes of holidays past, some retail watchers started to refer to Black Friday as Blasé 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 the logistics companies that’ll deliver them.)
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:
Malls Forced to Try New Things Amid Pandemic
Malls are approaching the holiday season much differently this year. But the retailers, small businesses and restaurants at shopping centers owned by CBL & Associates Properties Inc. are making it work, according to CEO Stephen Lebovitz.
At one of his malls in Kentucky, where indoor dining is restricted, a health-inspector approved tent was set up in the parking lot. Santa sits behind plexiglass and of course there’s no sitting on his lap.
“Even though the crowds aren’t what they’re going to be in a 2019 Black Friday, they’re still strong crowds and we’ve seen strong traffic across the board,” he said in an interview. Shoppers who do venture to the mall have a higher conversion rate; they’re often leaving stores with bags in their hands.
And he is betting the Santa of past Black Fridays will return, including with photo ops for pets.
“This year we haven’t been able to bring our pets to get their picture taken with Santa. That was very popular,” Lebovitz said. “I guarantee you that that will be something that will come back.”
CBL owns 68 malls and open-air retail centers.
Black Friday Isn’t a Social Event This Year
Remember gathering in crowds to shop just for fun? Last Black Friday was certainly a different world.
“In years past, I feel like Black Friday seemed like a time where people kind of hung out and got together and sort of had a little bit of a reunion,” said Jenna Lynn Pogorzelski, a retail leader at Deloitte. This year, not so much. The food courts at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania were almost completely empty, she said, and shoppers “went into the stores they wanted to and did some browsing and then they got out pretty quickly.”
Bobby Stephens, a leader in Deloitte Digital’s retail and consumer products practice, witnessed a similar trend. Most of the in-person shopping is “with a purpose, to make a purchase specifically,” he said. “It’s not your typical browsing, get a group of people together, have brunch, walk around for several hours.”
The Crowds Will Return Next Year
Americans have gotten used to delivery, but don’t count out Black Friday 2021 just yet.
“I expect doorbusters to return next year,” said Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. With the virus hopefully gone and capacity limits no longer an issue, retailers will try to make the shopping day feel festive again. “Retailers will aim to strike a better balance with online and stores as they move forward.”
The Year of Yoga Pants Continues
Lululemon Athletica once again is a winner in 2020. After outpacing the market this year thanks to huge demand for comfortable apparel, the retail chain seems to be the hottest place this Black Friday, according to Jenna Lynn Pogorzelski, a retail leader at Deloitte.
At one of the biggest shopping centers in the U.S., the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, millennial women flocked to buy Lulu’s famous leggings, said Pogorzelski, who visited the retailer this morning. Employees checked customers into a virtual queue, and if that line was too long, they could also stop by a pop-up store the company set up in another area of the mall.
That trend was just as clear across the country, with a similar line outside the Lululemon at Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona.
Lululemon shares climbed 2.1% Friday afternoon in New York, adding to a 2020 gain of 54% through Wednesday’s close.
England’s Shopping Day Nears End With Light Sales
Black Friday in the U.K. was subdued as expected. Barclaycard Payments, which says it processes nearly one out of every three pounds spent there, says the volume of payments was down 16.7% at 4 p.m. local time compared to Black Friday last year.
“The real focus now will be on Wednesday -- the end of the national lockdown in England -- when we predict that shoppers heading back to the high street will bring about a ‘Black Wednesday,’ with transactions likely surpassing what we’ve seen today,” said Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments.
Stretchy Pants, Work-From-Home Items Big Sellers
Americans have been buying elastic-waisted pants and mood-lifting throw pillows all pandemic long, so why stop now?
At Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona, lines had formed outside stretch-pants purveyor Lululemon Athletica Inc. as well as Bath & Body Works -- whose hand sanitizers, candles and soaps have made it a coronavirus winner.
“Anything that’s to do with nesting and the home seems to be doing well, which is what we’ve seen during the pandemic as a whole, so it’s just a continuation of that trend,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail, who visited the mall around 11 a.m. local time. “Things like fashion stores, some of the luxury stores, there are people in them, but it’s a lot more subdued. Department stores are pretty quiet as well.”
Electronics to support an extended work-from-home set-up, like external keyboards and mouse devises, are also poised for a big day, said Joseph Feldman, senior managing director and assistant director of research at Telsey Advisory Group. Shoppers are looking for “things to make their living environment a little more fun and a better experience for them,” he said on Bloomberg TV.
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