Texas Tech University

Black Friday Outlook: Retailers Look to Boost Sales and Safety

Glenys Young

November 16, 2020

Thirty-year retail veteran Robert Paul Jones shares insights for a happier holiday.

As with much of 2020, Black Friday may seem blacker than usual this year. But in this case, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The day after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the Christmas shopping season, was initially dubbed "Black Friday" because it was the day retailers made enough money to officially switch from "in the red" to "in the black," becoming profitable for the year.

Of course, after what has been a very bleak year in many ways, Black Friday 2020 also has a dark cloud hanging over it – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which will affect many of the traditions associated with the day.

Robert Paul Jones

To get a feel for what we can expect from Black Friday 2020, we asked Robert Paul Jones, chair of Texas Tech University's Department of Hospitality and Retail Management and a nearly 30-year veteran of the retail industry, for his thoughts and what to expect this year.

What do you think Black Friday and the holiday shopping season will look and feel like this year?
First, I want to remind everyone of the tremendous efforts retailers have undertaken to make their stores safe for shoppers and their employees. With a little extra precaution on your part, shopping in-store can be a safe activity. Remember your mask and hand sanitizer if hand washing is unavailable, and do your best to be socially distant, especially while waiting in line.

This year, retailers are trying to avoid mass gatherings such as the single "Black Friday" event. Fears are persistent and wide held that during the busy holiday season, pandemic shutdown orders could force non-essential retailers to close. Therefore, you are seeing an approach centered on "Black Friday Month" offering savings throughout November. Shoppers will need to keep an eye on what they are looking to purchase this holiday season in order to avoid missing out on special pricing. Many retailers are placing certain categories of products on sale week by week for their holiday sales offerings.

In stores, shoppers should be prepared for a more intense environment. Holiday shopping can be a tense time without a pandemic. Fears for personal safety combined with traditional holiday shopping anxiety could make for a difficult time. So, be prepared and try to keep focused on the fun of the season – not the pandemic or fear of missing out on that last-minute purchase.

Black Friday has moved increasingly to online sales over the last several years, but this year presents something different entirely: a pandemic situation where in-person shopping will be severely limited for safety reasons, if it happens at all, combined with a question about the reliability of mail service for delivery. What effects do you think that will have on retailers?
While online shopping has become much more prevalent in recent years, this year will pose some special considerations. Mail delivery has been in the news lately for the slowdown it has been experiencing. This could pose a significant problem for mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and USPS final mile deliveries. FedEx and UPS also have experienced shipping delays in recent years due to the volume of deliveries and weather. This holiday season will be no different on those two issues, however, the pandemic provides another twist. Keeping delivery people healthy and able to do their job could pose significant additional delivery problems. The best advice is to shop early for all of your online orders to ensure you will receive them on time.

A lot has been said about the fact that, despite the state of the economy, many people are intending to spend more on Christmas gifts, especially for kids, because this year has been so abnormal and scary. What are your thoughts on that, both as a retail expert and as a parent?
All economic indicators are poised for a big holiday spending spree. While children definitely will benefit as compensation for a difficult year, so will mom and dad. This season, expect a high volume of self-purchasing as a pick-me-up for haggard parents. Many have gone without during the pandemic and now they will feel like splurging.

As a parent, I can certainly sympathize with these sentiments and a desire to try to bring a little more joy for the family this holiday season. It may be beneficial for the whole family to feel as though the holiday season continues as unchanged as possible or maybe even a little brighter than usual.

As a retail expert, however, I see that many Americans are still facing an uncertain economic future. Now may not be the time to spend as freely on credit cards or spend down your cash reserves. It is always a good idea to set a budget you can comfortably support for your holiday shopping season. Try to make targeted purchases. Maybe purchase the one big item that has usually seemed out of reach, and perhaps back down on the many smaller items. It would be good to try to maintain some fiscal balance this holiday season.

Jones says retailers have undertaken tremendous efforts to make their stores safe for shoppers and their employees. With a little extra precaution on your part, shopping in-store can be a safe activity. So, remember your mask and hand sanitizer if hand washing is unavailable, and do your best to be socially distant, especially while waiting in line.

Typically, the big-ticket items for Black Friday are technology-related. Do you think that trend will continue this year? Is there a particular "big thing" this year?
Yes, this is going to be a big tech year. The usual suspects will continue to be popular items, such as big screen TVs, sound systems and new smartphones. But this holiday season will see a shift into some newer categories.

Personal computers and tablets will be hot items as parents prepare for both at-home working and schooling. Wi-Fi mesh systems like eero by Amazon and Nest by Google also will be in high demand. These products significantly improve Wi-Fi service within the home, which is a priority, given all the work that is now going on from the home during the pandemic.

Voice-enabled products will be another key area. Whether it is Alexa, Echo, Echo Show, Studio or Dot from Amazon; Nest, Nest Mini, Hub and Max from Google; or the Apple HomePod, these products are on everyone's list. These are just some of the devices available to help your run your home and your schedule. This holiday season will see plenty of new voice-enabled products from appliances to faucets, which have all joined the internet of things (IoT) using voice technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to operate.

What advice do you have for shoppers?
This holiday season, I recommend you shop early. This advice is good for both in-store and online. Retailers are going to be careful with their inventory, so the stores may run out of sizes or items you are looking for. Online may be the solution as long as you can plan your shopping for enough time for your item to arrive.

Shopping early also is a good idea literally. If you are going to be shopping in store, shopping early is likely to provide you with the least crowded environment. Check for extended hours at the store where you're interested in shopping. Some stores are opening at 5 a.m. and closing at midnight. Others will shift to 24 hours a day. Also, many stores that have, in recent years, been open on Thanksgiving Day will be closed this year. Also consider not bringing your family with you. During this particular season, less will definitely be more. You can be much more flexible and nimble if you or just a couple of you are shopping together. Plus, it is a courtesy to other shoppers to try to lower the numbers of shoppers in store at one time.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?
As a word of caution, some big-ticket items, such as appliances, were severely impacted by the pandemic. Production was slowed and many appliances are just not available. So even if you see the item on display in the store or online, it does not mean it is in stock. Check for availability before placing your order, otherwise you may not have your item until sometime in 2021.

Finally, as a reminder, the holiday season is a time for family and joy. Following some of these tips can provide you with a more pleasant, productive and relaxing holiday shopping experience. Take time to be kind to others – particularly store employees who are working hard to make your holiday bright. Everyone has faced a difficult year; try to make your holiday season and shopping a bright spot of your 2020.