Black Friday 2020 Takes On New Forms To Adapt To COVID-19

Black Friday Takes On New Forms Amid Pandemic

Just as the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new eCommerce technologies, it might also hasten the demise of Black Friday as we’ve known it.

It seems likely that fewer people will take their chances going to physical stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving to snap up big holiday deals even if face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing are the norm.

Instead, Black Friday seems likely to go mostly online — and run far longer than just a single day. After all, the phenomenon known as “Christmas Creep” was already chipping away at Black Friday and Cyber Monday receipts over the past several years. Fewer and fewer consumers seemed willing to join crowds of bargain hunters, who in some cases would camp out overnight in front of stores to get the first shot at deals.

A recent Reuters report about Google Cloud’s preparations ahead of the upcoming online holiday shopping season contained an interesting nugget. Carrie Tharp, Google Cloud’s vice president of retail and consumer, said COVID-19 has forced an evolution in eCommerce, “with some retailers adopting [Google’s] predictive algorithms years ahead of plan to help them work out the most efficient way of fulfilling orders.”

When anything is “years ahead of plan,” it’s worth looking at more closely. In this case, the driving force is retailers’ prediction of surging eCommerce demand as 2020 closes out. Stores want to make sure they’ve got enough server capacity to handle what could be record-setting online sales.

PYMNTS research has found that consumers believe they’ll be dealing with COVID-19 aftershocks through 2021 and possibly beyond. Such reports have merchants scrambling to replace in-store Black Friday purchases by creating more than just a one-day sales event and shifting the whole thing online.

‘Reinventing Black Friday’

For instance, The Home Depot this week announced that it’s “reinventing Black Friday” by improving the shopping experience “with your safety and well-being as our priority.”

“For the first time ever, our Black Friday prices will be available throughout the holiday season,” the chain said. “Savings will start in early November and last through December, both in-store and on”

It’s a similar story at Amazon. The eCommerce giant’s Prime Day summer sale, which normally takes place in July, had become an annual economic powerhouse unto itself, but Amazon postponed it this year to an unspecified future date due to the pandemic.

The company is now rumored to be considering a two-day Prime event in the fourth quarter to leverage holiday buying. It’s also expected to run a long promotion of “Early Black Friday Deals” beginning in October.

PYMNTS reported this week that Amazon “has told its sellers that ‘Black Friday’ deals will start on Monday, Oct. 26.

“According to Tamebay, an Amazon seller news site, Amazon Early Black Friday Deals will [run] through Nov. 19. There will be three weeks of Amazon Early Black Friday Deals with different products on special offer each week,” the report stated.

Retailers Want To Be As Ready As They Can Be

Such a convergence of factors hasn’t happened in living memory, which leaves plenty of room for speculation about what the winter shopping season will look like.

Peggy Alford, PayPal’s executive vice president of global sales, told PYMNTS that retailers “are trying to make themselves as ready as possible.”

“What we’re going to see is that because of how frictionless and easy digital commerce is to use and how safe it is, it becomes the new way of paying and the new way of shopping — especially as the pandemic continues and this behavior becomes habitual,” she said.

The bottom line: As the holiday shopping season rapidly approaches, expect things to be different this year.

“Now, most every brick-and-mortar retailer of note will close for Thanksgiving, possibly tipping the hat to a values reset around family,” PYMNTS reported. “In fact the values reset around several issues may be one of the defining characteristics of Holiday 2020.”

“It’s not hard to imagine Black Friday or even Cyber Monday using charity donations as consumer motivation to shop,” the report stated. “Especially since Black Friday pricing has been in effect pretty much since the beginning of April. Discounts have been an everyday occurrence instead of an event.”