The virus is thinning the Black Friday masses, with shoppers switching online

NEW YORK (AP) – The raging coronavirus epidemic lost masses in the country’s malls and stores on Black Friday, but the surge in online shopping gave struggling retailers hope after months of declining sales and bankrupt businesses.

In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, attracting millions who would love to start their holiday spending.

But these are not normal times: The rise in coronavirus cases is jeopardizing the proper recovery of the economy after a sudden fall in the spring. The number of stores dropped dramatically when shoppers switched online.

Game consoles, pots, robotic vacuum cleaners, slippers and pajamas were popular with shoppers who spend a lot of time indoors this winter. Many were still eager to immerse themselves in the festive mood and bring joy to their loved ones after a difficult year.

For the first time in his life, Eric Kelly, the owner of a boxing gym, camped in front of a store on Black Friday and tried to get a PlayStation 5 for his 13-year-old twins as a reward for persevering through distance learning during the epidemic.

“They were away from their friends,” said Kelly, who couldn’t get the console at Union Square GameStop in New York, but said she would continue to try online. “They did everything they had to do in and out of school, so I have to reward them for being exceptional kids.”

Before Black Friday, GameStop teased it to offer a limited edition of the new $ 500 PlayStation 5 game console, which can only be sold in stores, unlike other retailers who only sold it online.

According to Kelly, “people stacked” in the queue. At Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey, police watched the crowd in front of GameStop, but few kept their distance.

GameStop said it has taken a number of safety precautions, including contactless recording.

Many retailers have confirmed their security protocols to reassure cautious customers about Black Friday’s arrival. But department stores have also satisfied digital shoppers by moving online with their door-opening deals and appreciating roadside pick-up opportunities.

“We deliberately tried not to create the craze, doorbreakers, long lines, and crowds that are usually seen on a Black Friday,” said Stephen Lebovitz, CEO of CBL, which operates about 100 malls and reports bankruptcy in Chapter 11. in November.

Hundreds of shoppers lined up before the opening at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which typically attracts black thousands more on Black Friday. The mall spread the Black Friday deals for eight days, and many retail tenants turned more to online and on-site recruitment, said Jill Renslow, vice president of business development at Mall of America.

“It feels good, and it’s the right thing to keep everyone safe,” Renslow said. “Everyone buys a little differently, but that’s okay.”

Only one drip shopper appeared at Macy’s Herald Square in New York an hour after opening, giving a 50% discount on handbags and 60% off women’s and men’s jackets. Workers disinfected the door knobs and windows.

A Christmas tree towered over the largely empty streets around The Domain, Austin, Texas ’most popular outdoor mall. Store employees calculated that masked shoppers rushed to stay within the state’s 75% capacity limit.

U.S. Center for Disease Prevention and Control Labels Purchase in Crowded Stores it is a “higher risk” activity during the holidays and says people need to limit it any personal purchases.

The National Retail Association, the country’s largest retail group, has predicted that shoppers will look for reasons to celebrate. The trade group expects sales to grow between 3.6% and 5.2% in November-December compared to 2019, up from 4% a year earlier. Holiday sales have grown by an average of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We believe it will be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to enjoy a better-than-normal holiday,” said Jack Kleinhenz, chief economist at NRF.

Thanksgiving Day hit a new record on the Internet as spending reached $ 5.1 billion, a 21.5% increase from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, the top 100 online retailers in the United States. measures. The most popular products included Lego sets, Barbie games and scooters, HP laptops and Apple watches, according to Adobe. The popularity of Netflix’s “Queen’s Gambit” has boosted sales of chess-related items.

Walmart, which distributed its Black Friday offerings over several weekends, said its most popular offerings include this year’s new game consoles, wireless headphones, home appliances such as the Edufy Robotic Vacuum.

Black Friday is projected to generate $ 10 billion in online sales, a 39% blow from a year ago, according to Adobe. Cyber ​​Monday, the post-Thanksgiving Monday with $ 12.7 billion in sales and a 35% jump, remains the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Analysts say big box stores like Walmart and Target, which may have remained open during the spring closures, enjoyed additional benefits in speeding up their online services.

But stores that were not considered essential, forced to close, tried to recover. More than 40 chains, including JC Penney and J. Crew, have filed for bankruptcy.

“Will the gifting of clothing gifts and footwear be stepped up to help any specialty retailer, and do they have a digital presence to really grab the attention of consumers?” said Sonia Lapinsky, CEO of AlixPartners Retail Practice. “It’s still waiting for you, and I think it’s going to be on the grim side.”

There are fewer deals to close this year as well. Non-core retailers were forced to stop production at the start of the pandemic, leading to lower inventories. As a result, the festive promotions track last year’s levels of apparel, consumer electronics, power and hand tools, and household items, according to market research firm Numerator.

Erika Mendez usually goes to the mall every Black Friday to shop at Zara, H&M or Forever 21 clothing brands. But this year, the New Jersey journalism student finally bought on Amazon and got a Nike track suit with a 25% discount, as well as Nike shoes with a 20% discount.

“It’s just easier to order online than going out,” Mendez says.

And Black Friday was the last thing that hurt the most because of the pandemic. In one of the popular shopping districts in St. Petersburg, Florida, several storefronts were empty and the only line was a plasma donation center.

Leonard Chester, 58, said he hopes for at least $ 55 for the donation, saying he should eat. When he remembered that it was Black Friday, he let out a laugh and pointed to the line around him.

“It says people are hurt. The economy is bad, ”said Chester, who was fired two months ago as a stripper club bouncer.


AP staff, Tamara Lush of St. Petersburg, Florida, Acacia Coronado of Austin, Texas, and Desiree Mathurin of New York contributed to the report.