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What Will Black Friday Look Like In A Pandemic? Like Everything Else In 2020, It Will Be Different

Michael Dwyer
In this Nov. 29, 2019 file photo, a shopper leaves Macy's in Boston on Black Friday.

Black Friday, the traditional kick off to the holiday shopping season, will feature fewer “doorbuster” early morning sales at big box retailers this year, according to one consumer expert.

Instead, expect an acceleration of the trends that have been taking place in recent years: more online sales and shopping, more ordering online for curbside pickup, and a stretching out of the period when retailers try to entice consumers with big deals beyond the day after Thanksgiving, according to Audrey Guskey, an associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University.

“Black Friday is going to be very strangely different. I mean, we’re accustomed to having thousands of shoppers storming into the store at four in the morning, and waiting in line, and obviously, that’s just not going to happen because of the safety issues,” she said.

This year, the National Retail Federation forecast holiday sales increasing between 3.6 percent and 5.2 percent. The trade group predicts from $755.3 to $766.7 billion in total sales, including online shopping.

The organization predicts a 20 to 30 percent increase in online sales over last year.

Guskey said with many small businesses hurting, this could be a time when they start to see a recovery from the pandemic and the shutdowns meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“Small businesses have been hurt the hardest, as far as the pandemic goes, sadly,” she said. “So I think that people are, most shoppers are going to be on their side, they’re going to be looking to support their local retailers.”

Her forecast is more conservative than that of the National Retail Federation, and predicts mostly flat sales this season compared to last year.

“I just don’t think people are ready to get out there and spend,” she said.

Guskey predicts many popular products will be home-focused items as shoppers continue to mostly hunker down, such as food and alcohol.

Economic research from CBRE predicted strong seasonal retail sales, but also noted “ongoing economic headwinds and concerns over a fall/winter spike in the virus are creating an uncertain and unpredictable 2020 holiday shopping season.”

The commercial real estate services and investment firm’s research forecast an unemployment rate of 9.1% for the later part of the year. “Unless additional government stimulus is forthcoming, many consumers will have to balance weakened economic conditions and safety concerns with preserving the excitement of gift-giving and the spirit of celebration,” the firm noted.