COVID-19: Stores, Customers Prepare for a Different Black Friday

Photo Credit: Julia Pacifico

Images of the chaos that ensues in stores the day after Thanksgiving—doorbuster deals, mile long lines, overcrowded aisles, and frantic shoppers—have become an annual spectacle. But thanks to the pandemic, Black Friday is set to look quite different this year.

“I definitely think the pandemic will have a negative effect on retail shopping this Black Friday,” Sean Linehan, owner of Bryn Mawr Running Company on Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, said. 

With COVID-19 cases rising throughout the region as the holiday season approaches, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have placed further restrictions on the number of people allowed in stores, all but guaranteeing Black Friday won’t see crowds searching for the latest deals.

“In order to keep their staff and patrons safe, stores should follow the City’s safety checklist guidance,” James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, said.

Stores should implement mask use, plexiglass barriers, hand washing, and regular cleaning policies, while also maintaining distance, and capping the number of people in the store, Garrow said.

Black Friday traces its history back to Philadelphia in the 1950s. On the day after Thanksgiving, Philadelphia police officers were required to work overtime, due to the city being flooded with tourists and residents of the suburbs ahead of the annual Army vs. Navy football game. Crowds were hectic and officers took to calling the day “Black Friday.”

Retail stores in the Philadelphia area quickly picked up the term and attempted to reinvent it with a positive spin, calling it “Big Friday,” and branding it as a weekend for shoppers in the city of Philadelphia. The name change didn’t stick, but by the 1980s, retailers across the country had begun hosting their own Black Friday deals. 

“Black Friday was always one of my favorite days because my best friends and I would get up super early to go to the mall and find all the best deals,” Riley Gayton, a resident of Mayfair, said. “And it would be fun because on normal days you don’t go to the mall at two in the morning. But this year, with COVID-19 still very prevalent, I wouldn’t want to partake in Black Friday like usual.”

While most stores continue to offer a low-density version of in-person shopping, the Philadelphia Health Department is recommending businesses offer an online shopping option as well, Garrow said.

“I’ll shop online for Black Friday this year so that we can eventually stop the spread of the virus and hopefully, in the future, get the holiday back without the risks involved,” Gayton said.

Major retailers, such as Target, Macy’s, Walmart, and Best Buy offer online purchasing, along with no contact pickup and delivery options.

Smaller retailers have also adjusted their operations to offer occasional no contact pickup and delivery. 

“We rearranged our stores to offer a natural socially distant shopping experience,” Linehan said. “We encourage customer appointments, and we offer curbside pickup, and in some cases, delivery is available.”

Garrow encourages retail stores to incentivize their customers to participate in contactless shopping.

“Stores should consider only offering promotions for some or all items online only,” he said.

But for other Philadelphia retailers, in-person shopping is a business necessity, even while following the public health guidelines.

Sophy Curson, a women’s boutique in Center City, is running its usual fall sale at the end of November. And as many people will not be traveling to visit family for Thanksgiving this year, they are expecting a good deal of customers to visit the boutique.

(Photo Credit – Instagram: @sophycurson)

“We have a locked front door, so people have to ring to come in,” David Schwartz, vice president at Sophy Curson, said. “We can limit our customers to three at a time to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Customers like Gayton, though, see value in approaching the day after Thanksgiving with a sense of caution, thinking twice before they rush to a store. 

“I will definitely miss the excitement and thrill,” Gayton said. “But to me it feels selfish to put other people at a potential risk and contribute to the spread of the pandemic so that I can have one fun experience.”

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