COVID-19

Thanksgiving won’t launch Black Friday shopping at some of the biggest retailers

Kristin Schwab Jul 29, 2020
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A Macy's Black Friday sale in 2018 in New York. Store traffic on Thanksgiving is just a small part of Black Friday weekend. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

Thanksgiving won’t launch Black Friday shopping at some of the biggest retailers

Kristin Schwab Jul 29, 2020
Heard on:
A Macy's Black Friday sale in 2018 in New York. Store traffic on Thanksgiving is just a small part of Black Friday weekend. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
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There are Thanksgiving traditions — and then there are Thanksgiving traditions, like camping out in front of big-box stores and waiting hours for the doors to open. Then comes the chaos, as shoppers climb over one another to get to big-screen TVs and other bargains.

But that’s unlikely to be the scene this year at some of the nation’s biggest retailers. Walmart, Target and Best Buy have announced that they won’t be jump-starting the “official” Black Friday weekend by opening stores on Thanksgiving.

“When all is said and done, creating crowds in the age of COVID-19 is a really bad idea,” said Mark Cohen, who directs the retail studies program at Columbia Business School.

It’s an easy way for stores to give their employees the day off. Plus, there’s not much to lose. Store traffic on Thanksgiving is just a small part of Black Friday weekend. And holiday sales are starting earlier and earlier each year. The pandemic has already pushed retailers into offering deep discounts. “It’s kind of a ritual that doesn’t have as much economic value as it once had,” Cohen said.

Still, rituals are important.

“It is a day that is very ceremonial,” said Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst at Forrester. “It marks the beginning of the holiday season psychologically for a lot of people.”

And more of them have already been marking it online because of deeper discounts, better financing and free shipping. On Black Friday last year, 10 million more people shopped online than in stores, according to the National Retail Federation.

But Kodali isn’t so sure retailers will go as far as canceling Black Friday altogether. Even in a pandemic, stores like Target and Walmart can’t afford to take the weekend off. And for nonessential retailers, the weekend may be even more important. “The challenge is that some of the largest retailers, particularly in the apparel space and the department store space, are down so terribly they need Q4.”

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