Mask up: Black Friday will have different feel during pandemic

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A Lego store employee at the Fashion Show mall brings out more products on a busy Black Friday in 2015.

Wed, Nov 25, 2020 (2 a.m.)

Velisa Johnson has joined the ranks of Black Friday shoppers before: Hitting the stores as soon as the doors slide open, jockeying for position, engaging in consumer combat for the hottest deals.

“One year, I was trying to get a deal on some sheets and I remember there were ladies elbowing people out of the way,” she recalled.

Johnson said she can do without all the hubbub. But for many people, the day-after-Thanksgiving ritual is as much a part of the holiday season as Santa Claus and candy canes.

This year, however, the coronavirus pandemic is upending all of that.

Crowds, pushing and jostling are being replaced by face masks, hand sanitizer and social distancing.

Stores are spreading out their sales to cut down on Black Friday crowds and offering online shopping deals and curbside pickup.

Gov. Steve Sisolak, meanwhile, has been urging Nevadans to stay home as much as possible to curb the spread of the virus, which has been surging in recent weeks.

Because of concern over COVID-19, it’s widely anticipated Black Friday will prove a tamer shopping experience this year, said Bryan Wachter, director of public and government affairs for the Retail Association of Nevada.

“I think that Black Friday experience, getting up early and going with family or friends, will be there in the future. In 2020, I think we’ll see a lot less of it,” Wachter said.

“We’re encouraging that,” he said. “We want customers to remain safe and healthy, and we want store employees to remain safe and healthy.”

That’s just fine with shoppers like Johnson.

“I’ve done the Black Friday thing in the past,” she said. “I can live without ever doing that again. I’ll just go on Amazon.”

During the pandemic, that’s what many people have been doing, anyway. Online stores have seen a marked uptick in sales.

Deloitte, an international financial services firm, reports that online sales have grown this year by as much as 35% over 2019.

In August, the most recent month data was available, Nevada officials reported more than $252 million in taxable non-store sales in Clark County, an increase of more than 162% from August 2019.

Instead of focusing solely on Black Friday, online retail giant Amazon has been offering deals throughout November, encouraging shoppers to “get ahead of the holiday bustle.”

Through daily Holiday Dash deals and a Black Friday sales week, customers have been able to score bargains on everything from Amazon devices to clothing and electronics.

Not to be outdone, Target and Walmart are offering the same kinds of specials online as in their brick-and-mortar stores.

Walmart, with stores across the Las Vegas Valley, spread out its Black Friday savings across several events this month, beginning online and continuing at stores.

The final event begins today online, with new deals in stores when the doors open at 5 a.m. on Black Friday.

“By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates,” Scott McCall, a Walmart merchandising executive, said in a statement.

On Black Friday, customers will have to line up to enter stores — no mad dashes — and associates will hand out sanitized carts. Only so many shoppers will be let in at a time to avoid congestion and promote social distancing, the company said.

Target is also offering online and in-store deals throughout November with its Black Friday Now promotion, which features different categories of products each week.

Target won’t be open on Thanksgiving and, unlike past years, stores won’t open earlier than their normal 7 a.m. starting time for Black Friday.

In a Nov. 18 earnings call, Target Chairman and CEO Brian Cornell noted that to minimize lines, the chain has added more than 1,000 mobile checkout devices so customers can pay anywhere in the store.

Over the last year, Target has also doubled the number of drive-up parking spaces for customers waiting to pick up online orders, Cornell said.

“There’s been a push by the industry to not have an overabundance of shoppers in stores on Black Friday,” said the Retail Association of Nevada’s Wachter.

Timo Kuusela, general manager of the Boulevard Mall on South Maryland Parkway, said he expects fewer people this Black Friday than previous years. But the crowds should be bigger than a normal shopping day during the pandemic, he said.

“We do see people are still coming out,” Kuusela said. “I think people are kind of sick of being stuck inside and online. Our retailers have indicated to me that they’re all expecting a heavier-than-normal shopping day. People are used to Black Friday being a family activity.”

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