Will it be a bleak Friday? Pandemic will challenge retailers, shoppers

By Judy Harvey Chronicle Media

Malls may be less crowded this holiday shopping season as more folks turn to online deals to follow COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing. (Illinois Retailers Association photo)

Like some many things in 2020, Black Friday is not going to be the same as in years past.

The annual kickoff to the holiday shopping frenzy is likely to be much more subdued, with smaller crowds at stores as Illinois and the rest of the country is seeing a record-setting surge of COVID-19 cases.

The stay-at-home advisory issued by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Nov. 12 restricts the number of people at in-person gatherings, puts limits on indoor dining and bars and overall asks people to only go out to stores for essential items.

Long, packed lines at checkouts and crowded aisles will not be a sight of this holiday season.

Savvy shoppers and retailers have adapted to the changing landscape and began their holiday shopping season a lot earlier. Many household holiday budgets will be tighter this year with so many millions out of work.

More than half, 62 percent, of consumers said they were already shopping for holiday gifts in October and 19 percent had already finished their list in October, according to a Ware2Go survey as reported in QSR Magazine.

Only one in five consumers surveyed expect to have to complete their holiday shopping over the traditional stretch, Black Friday through Dec. 24, the magazine reported.

“The good news for retailers is that 54 percent expect to do more shopping and 83 percent will be doing more online compared to previous holiday seasons,” stated QSR Magazine.

Many large national retailers earlier this month began offering specials normally held back for Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend.

Amazon has launched an all-out Early Black Friday campaign with “epic deals.”

Shops in downtown Oswego are ready and hoping for shoppers not only on Small Business Saturday Nov. 28 ,but throughout the holiday shopping season. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Oswego Facebook)

Shopping online — which has already played a larger role in retail sales this year as people search for everyday items that frequently become scarce on store shelves — will likely be the preferred method for holiday gift buying.

With that increased online demand comes concerns about the pressure on the U.S. Postal Service and shipping companies to complete deliveries on time.

More than 75 percent of Americans surveyed are concerned about getting online gift orders on time this year, and 71 percent say that a two-day shipping option for holiday shopping is important to them, according to RetailCustomerExperience.com.

Small businesses

Small, independent businesses have been hit the hardest while the pandemic drags on as they often are not set up to handle a volume of online orders.

Local elected officials and chambers of commerce have been encouraging residents to patronize their locally owned shops and restaurants to keep them open and operating during the difficult economic times.

While Shop Local has been a months-long refrain, the big annual event for the mom and pop operations is the Small Business Saturday, which is observed on the day after Black Friday and this year falls on Nov. 28.

Communities often tie this national campaign to their holiday kickoff events on that same weekend. But with so many municipalities canceling or severely cutting back on their traditional programs to reduce crowds, many small local businesses may be negatively impacted and not get that normal early bounce in sales from the first weekend of the season.

Downtown shopping districts will be dressed in festive lights and decorations to lure residents and visitors alike to spend money at their local stores. (Photo courtesy of Downtown Naperville Chamber of Commerce)

In addition to the stores, local restaurants count on the boost in customers during the holiday season as people come in for a meal and break from shopping or gather for holiday parties. Restaurants have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as COVID-19 restrictions in some form have been in place for indoor dining since April.

The American Express and Small Business initiative call restaurants” the heartbeats of our neighborhoods, and the holiday season is crucial to their success. In other words: Now is the time to support independent restaurants. Because after this year, let’s eat, drink, and be merry — with the restaurants you love.”

As part of its holiday campaign, American Express is pushing the program Shop Small. Dine with Love. Dine Small on Resy.

The Illinois Restaurant Association has been pushing back at the mitigations on indoor dining and bars put in place by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The IRA is currently surveying Illinois restaurant and bar operators on the impact of the latest round of state mitigations that have shut down indoor service.


Safe shopping

Stay-at-home advisories and social distancing restrictions are likely to be in place through the winter months.

But, if you are planning on going out to shop for gifts or to just take in some holiday atmosphere, health officials are offering some advice and recommendations to protect yourself from exposure to COVID-19.

With communities canceling or going virtual with their annual holiday celebrations — such as Christkindlmarkets — local shopping districts may be impacted with less foot traffic for small and independent stores. (Chronicle Media photo)

Look for businesses that offer safety precautions for their customers and staff, including the following:

  • Enforces face mask policy
  • Offers face masks if you forget one
  • Hand sanitizer at entrance
  • Touch-free payment options
  • Encourages social distancing
  • Limits the number of customers in the store at one time

Dr. John O’Horo, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician, says it’s important that everyone does their part to help reduce community spread of COVID-19.

Stay home and refrain from shopping or being around others if you are not feeling well, if you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or if you have a fever.