Here’s what you need to know:
Recognition…Jim Wilson / The New York Times
Retailers have seen a sharp breakdown of wealth during the pandemic. The mass shutdowns this spring resulted in notable bankruptcies and thousands of store closures. And the strong ones like Amazon and Walmart have only gotten stronger and more profitable, powered by their online businesses and the ability to deliver everything people need at home, from groceries to electronics.
Now all retailers are stepping into their most important time of year – the holiday shopping season, which has long revolved around Black Friday.
Traditionally, the day is known for doorbuster deals and early morning personal purchases. This year, many of these offers began as early as October and were offered online. This reflects both the challenges physical stores are facing in the pandemic, as well as changing the way consumers prefer to shop.
According to the National Retail Federation, around 59 percent of shoppers started shopping during the holidays in early November. And more of it is being bought online. According to the retail group, e-commerce sales are expected to increase by up to 30 percent compared to last year’s Christmas time.
Overall, the industry group, which is usually bullish, said Christmas sales could rise between 3.6 and 5.2 percent, compared to the 4 percent increase last year.
Regardless of the magnitude of the spike, it’s noteworthy on many levels that overall Americans are likely to spend more this holiday season than they were last time.
Retail has evolved quickly to meet heavy consumer demand this holiday season. Department stores have been converted into fulfillment centers, new warehouses built, hundreds of thousands of employees hired, mostly to take on e-commerce functions, and roadside pick-up expanded.
Despite all the upheaval in shopping habits this year, stores are still hoping for the crowds on Black Friday on Friday. Best Buy and Walmart, for example, have many of their deals in stores starting at 5 a.m.
Recognition…Amr Alfiky / The New York Times
Black Friday was the biggest shopping day of the year for a long time. Doorbuster deals inspired some die-hard shoppers to camp outside big stores all night.
But with coronavirus cases popping up across the country and public health officials asking people to avoid the crowds, will stores still be trying to lure customers into the house? And if so, do the customers take the bait and show up?
“This year is going to be a Black Friday like no other,” said Kelly O’Keefe, managing partner at Brand Federation, a consulting firm. “We won’t have the crowds smashing Walmart’s door this year. There will be fewer people in the stores and there will be much better management of those people. “
Some of the biggest retailers are doing the following to keep shoppers safe on Black Friday this year:
Best Buy said it will only sell this year’s new game consoles online to avoid queues outside of stores.
The electronics chain said it would limit the number of customers in stores to adhere to social distancing guidelines recommended by the centers for disease control and prevention. Best Buy also said it would consider limiting hours, reducing occupancy and switching to roadside-only pick-up “on a case-by-case basis to help local communities contain outbreaks”.
All pick-up requests are now done by the roadside, and pick-up is available before and after store opening hours.
The stores require customers and employees to wear face covers and provide face covers to customers who do not have them. Best Buy offers disinfectant wipes near high-touch displays to give customers a chance to wipe surfaces before looking at them.
Walmart made three separate sales in November, both online and in-store.
It offers customers the ability to collect their online orders on Black Friday through Walmart’s contactless roadside pickup service.
On Black Friday itself, Walmart stores open at 5 a.m. and customers are asked to form a single straight line to enter the stores. Employees hand out hygienic shopping carts and remind customers to wear a mask when entering the store. Walmart will limit the number of customers in the store to 20 percent of capacity and instruct customers to shop on the right side of the aisles.
Target spread its sales offer throughout November, running promotions for different product categories every week.
To minimize the number of queues, Target has added mobile point-of-sale devices that store staff can use to help shoppers check out anywhere in the store. The company also enables guests to check out themselves using the Target mobile app.
In addition, the company has added thousands of items that can be picked up on the same day.
Target says it will monitor the number of shoppers to make sure people have enough space to shop safely and that customers can reserve a spot in line outside of their local store.
The hardware store has made Black Friday prices available both in-store and online throughout the holiday season, November 6th through December, to cut the crowd. Home Depot said it reduced the number of items on display in certain areas of stores in order to create more space for social distancing.
Recognition…Charlotte Kesl for the New York Times
The start of the holiday shopping season brings renewed concerns over the safety of retail workers amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.
For the most part, however, those worries have not yet resulted in significant pay hikes for workers to compensate for the increased risks. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, and Kroger have ended any raise or bonus they gave in previous months of the pandemic and have signaled no plans to restore those bonuses.
“There has never been a day that I and my employees are not concerned about our health and safety,” said Janet Wainwright, a Kroger worker in Yorktown, Virginia, during a conference call on Monday organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
This week, unions and think tanks put pressure on retailers to raise their wages, highlighting the huge profits made by companies during the pandemic and the relatively small profit they shared with their employees.
A report by the Brookings Institution found that the top 10 retail companies averaged $ 16.9 billion in additional profits this year, up 39 percent from last year. However, workers in these companies only saw average wages rise by $ 1.11 an hour during the pandemic.
On Wednesday, the UFCW reached an agreement with ShopRite that would allow 50,000 workers to receive a $ 1 hourly hazard allowance for every hour worked between July 26th and August 22nd. Workers receive this retrospective salary in a lump sum, and the company said it would discuss future risk payment with the union if the state or local government begins closing “non-essential” retailers while ShopRite employees are still working Work must appear.
Retailers are also facing lawsuits from workers and their families that companies haven’t done enough to protect them from the virus. The family of a Publix Florida employee who died from the virus recently sued the grocery chain. They claim the company would not let its employees wear masks in late March, although some health experts began recommending face coverings, according to The Tampa Bay Times.