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Shoppers Beware, the Rules of Holiday Shopping Have Changed!

Image Credit: ilona.shorokhova / Shutterstock.com

For nearly a half-century, Black Friday has been recognized as the kick-off of the Holiday shopping season. It is thought that the day after Thanksgiving became known as Black Friday in the early 1960s when Philadelphia police officers used the term to describe the massive traffic jams generated by the increase in shoppers. Retailers in the 1980s borrowed the term to describe the first day of the calendar year when businesses finally made it into the “Black” or became profitable. Whatever its origin, “Black Friday” has become an integral part of American society. A day when consumers of all ages and economic statures broke out of respective domiciles and joined in a collective, frenzied demonstration of bad manners and physical prowess to claim victory in acquiring an unprecedented deal. Stories of shoppers’ escapades often rivaled the best of fishermen’s tales and hunters’ lore.

With the advent of online shopping, e-marketers devised Cyber Monday. Not wanting to be left behind, brick-and-mortar retailers and American Express established Small Business Saturday. For decades, the three contenders followed a neat and orderly, but highly competitive, battle for dominance in opening-day sales. But like every aspect of normalcy in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything that was once considered normal.

Amazon’s tactic to move Amazon Prime Day from its original mid-summer sales position to mid-October disrupted many of the nation’s largest competitors’ holiday shopping battle plans and campaign strategies. It appears that this move was akin to a shot across the bowel of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Amazon’s early firing of the starter’s pistol may have been the most disruptive action to an established shopping tradition in 50 years. Shoppers beware, the rules and the very game itself have changed!

Three primary components of marketing are common among all sellers this year. Low price, convenience, and safety. “Retailers want to make sure that shoppers feel safe and feel comfortable,” says Kimberly Palmer, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “And so, we’re seeing them take those steps to do that.” Stores will be offering extended hours, increased features of curbside services, and expanded online deals. Target’s enhanced in-store experience will allow guests to skip waiting in line with a more contactless self-checkout or contactless drive-up services and more same-day order fulfillment options. “You can actually reserve your spot in line,” Palmer says. “You can check ahead of time. And if there is a line, you’ll be notified so you don’t show up and then see that it’s more crowded than you expect.”

Perhaps the most obvious change in tradition is the obliteration of each of the starting lines. Most large retailers took the wrapping off deals early, many by early November. Walmart’s in-store and online sales will be cast across three events beginning in early November and culminating just before Christmas. Lowe’s launched its “Season of Savings” sale events which include daily deals called “Cyber Steals.” Lowe’s executives have said not to expect any major in-store deals on the traditional “Black Friday” because they do not want to create situations where people will rush into stores to score limited-time deals. Regardless of the seller, consumers can expect discounts of up to 40% on electronics, apparel, appliances, home furnishings, toys, and shoes. With holiday sales representing nearly 19% of yearly sales, retailers are pulling out all the stops to ensure they capture a share of consumer purchases.

Smaller retailers are expanding efforts to attract online sales through websites, many offering free shipping and guaranteed delivery before the big day. Most are commanding strict adherence to safety protocols to decrease customers’ in-store exposure to the virus and offering extended hours or shopping opportunities by appointment for the most vulnerable shoppers. Anticipating an increase of support, small independent retailers are expecting more consumer participation on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As a result, shoppers should expect to see a few more opportunities to save as the mom-and-pop stores rise to the occasion to compete with the big-box retailers.

Consumers may just be the rare beneficiary in what has been a difficult and tumultuous year for everyone. After Santa drops his bag of gifts and makes his triumphant return to the North Pole, the benefits to consumers are likely to continue the day after Christmas, “Boxing Day”, as big-box stores and independent retailers slash prices even further to clear out remaining inventory. While the rules may have changed, consumers will likely be the year’s biggest winners of the game in 2020.