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Like Everything Else, Black Friday is Changing in 2020

3 min read
Sep 10, 2020

In the latest blow to the traditional Black Friday sales bonanza for retailers, home improvement giant Home Depot has canceled their Black Friday sale. However, don’t worry just yet. The store still plans to have a holiday sale, but it’ll start earlier and be spread out over a longer period of time. Although they may still be open on Friday, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, and Macy’s also plan to have earlier and longer sales.

This move, amidst the pandemic, comes as many retailers are considering how to reinvent the annual one-day sale that heavily discounts many items. Although we can blame the pandemic for many of the changes this year, the transition away from Black Friday has been underway for several years. A primary reason for this is that retailers have become more focused on spreading the sale out over several days.

"Black Friday has definitely transitioned more into a digital affair in the past five years," Neil Saunders, retail analyst and managing director at GlobalData Retail, told CNN. "The focal point is not that single day anymore. It's an event spread out over several days."

The gradual shift to more online shopping is another reason. That will be especially true this year because super-crowded stores are now considered dangerous. 

"I just can't envision that happening this year," Scott Rankin, principal and national consumer and retail strategy leader with KPMG US, told CNN. "With everything that's going on, there may be no Black Friday at all. I can't imagine retailers buying inventory to stock up for an event designed to pack hundreds of people into a store. There are so many risks to that."

Traditionally, Black Friday sales began as early as the afternoon or evening of Thanksgiving. That will also change this year. Many retailers, including Best Buy, Target, Kohl’s Ulta, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, will be closed on Thanksgiving. Walmart, for the first time in over 30 years, will also be closed, though their fulfillment centers will remain open.

So, is Black Friday, maybe even Cyber Monday, gone for good? Is there, maybe, a new “Cyber Shopping Week” in our future for holiday shopping? Perhaps this year, but with the coronavirus pandemic driving much of decision-making currently, it’s hard to tell if the changes will stick. However, with so much uncertainty, there’s little doubt that shoppers will prefer online shopping and extended sales this holiday season.

“I would guess that COVID-19 was instrumental in this decision as retailers are challenged to know how many guests will be able to be in any given store in any given state,” says Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst at Digital Commerce 360. “This is a moving target and may simplify the retailer’s shopping strategy, allowing them to focus their efforts on ecommerce.”

Others are more optimistic that the holiday season could return to something closer to normal. Even with the pandemic and associated lockdowns, consumers have still been eager to shop."As stores reopen, there are still people lining up to go shop," said Rod Sides, leader of Deloitte's US retail and distribution practice. "Some retailers will look at this and think the risk is too great to attract big crowds on Black Friday. But there could be others who won't be too worried as long as they are able to keep their employees and customers safe. It could be somewhat of a mixed bag."