By Julia Morlino
Shoppers and businesses reflect on the impact that safety guidelines have had on holiday shopping this year as the pandemic continues.
The busiest time of the holiday season, Black Friday, became the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic. Traditionally one of the biggest pre-holiday sales and shopping days of the year, Black Friday faced a significant drop of in-store shoppers as retailers shifted their approach to spreading discounts to limit the number of people who walk into their store.
Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving this year was considered a higher-risk activity according to the Centers for Disease Control, who instead suggested to “shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and days leading up to the winter holidays.” Retailers turned Black Friday from a one day sale to a week, or even a month, long sale both online and in-person to encourage shoppers to beat the rush and spread out.
“I think that having sales go on for longer made shopping less urgent and therefore limited large crowds from rushing to certain popular stores,” sophomore and sociology major Juliette Mabie said. Mabie shopped online this year because she did not feel safe going to stores in person, which is something she and her friends used to do every Black Friday and unfortunately missed out on this year.
The retail industry has adapted to the new reality of holiday shopping and transformed their stores into fulfillment centers by building new warehouses, hiring more workers to fill e-commerce roles, and extending curbside pickup as reported by The NY Times. As a result, Black Friday e-commerce sales experienced a 75% increase this year in comparison to last year according to data gathered by USA Today from the e-commerce platform Shopify.
While many resorted to online shopping this holiday season, some in-person shoppers still came out on Black Friday. Julia Rosow, a junior journalism and government politics major, went to her local mall in Avon, Ct. because she finds in-person shopping more sufficient.
“I like to be able to see the things I’m buying in-person because pictures online don’t always show what the clothing will actually look like and I end up returning most of the things I buy when I online shop,” she said.
Rosow said that she followed all of the necessary safety precautions while shopping in-person, like wearing her mask the whole time, following social distance policies and constantly using hand sanitizer after she left each store— all of which made her feel safe while shopping in a pandemic.
Black Friday safety precautions went both ways, as employees working in-stores were trained to keep their customers as safe as possible. Junior and psychology major Hannah Widman has been working at Free People in Highland Park, Ill. for two years, and worked there this year on Black Friday.
“I totally felt safe working there,” Widman said. “We have a great sanitizing process overall. We sanitize each fitting room and wipe down hangers and clothes after each use, and also have sneeze guards on the cash registers. We only allowed five customers in at a time and managed crowds by having a greeter at the front of the store who made customers aware of the QR code that they could scan to join the line if we were at capacity.”
Many open retailers on Black Friday had a similar procedure, where they only allowed a limited number of shoppers inside to minimize the risk of spreading covid. Although this strategy resulted in lines and wait times outside of stores, there were still so much less people shopping in person that the lines never grew to be that long. Widman said that Free People was less crowded this year than on previous Black Fridays.
Between the extension of sales in stores and on websites, there wasn’t much of a difference between Black Friday and Cyber Monday this holiday season. The hope is that next year it will be even closer to the original shopping experience.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Marco Scala’s Flickr account.
Julia Morlino is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.