COVID keeps Black Friday crowds thin as shoppers shift online

November 27, 2020
A shopper walks through Macy's flagship store at Herald Square an hour after its 6a.m. Black Friday opening, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Anne D'Innocenzio)

NEW YORK (AP) — The raging coronavirus pandemic kept crowds thin at malls and stores across the United States on Black Friday, but a surge in online shopping offered a small beacon of hope for struggling retailers after months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy.

In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of shoppers eager to get started on their holiday spending.

But these are not normal times: A spike in coronavirus cases is threatening the economy’s fitful recovery from the sudden plunge in the spring.

Crowds at stores were dramatically diminished as shoppers do more of their purchases online.

Many retailers closed their doors on Thanksgiving Day but beefed up their safety protocols to reassure wary customers about coming in on Black Friday.

Stores have also moved their doorbuster deals online and ramped up curbside pickup options as a last grasp at sales before the year ends and they head into the dark days of winter with the pandemic still raging.

“Black Friday is still critical,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “No retailer wants it to be tarnished. It’s still vital to get their consumers spending and get consumers into the holiday mood.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled shopping in crowded stores during the holidays a “higher risk” activity and says people should limit any in-person shopping, including at supermarkets.

Instead, the health agency recommends shopping online, visiting outdoor markets or using curbside pickup, where workers bring orders to you in the parking lot.

The day after Thanksgiving has been losing its luster as the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season for the past several years, with more stores were offering holiday discounts throughout the month.

Still, Black Friday has remained the busiest day of the year, according to ShopperTrak, and is expected to hold that title again this year.

Black Friday is projected to generate $10 billion in online sales, a 39% bump from the year ago period, according to Adobe Analytics.

And Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, will remain the biggest online shopping day of the year with $12.7 billion in sales, a 35% jump.

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