Most retailers have swapped one-day store events for numerous holiday deals before Thanksgiving and have them scheduled through December. Sales will last longer and more are online.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified “shopping at crowded stores on or after Thanksgiving” on a list of higher-risk activities to avoid and in guidance issued.
Retailers didn’t wait until Thanksgiving dinner to start their big sales. The first wave of deals began in mid-October and coincided with Amazon’s Prime Day.
“With COVID, this really changed everything,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group. “Now, nobody even wants to be standing next to somebody, let alone fighting a crowd to get something.”
The early start to holiday sales seems to be giving retail sales a lift. In October, U.S. sales of general merchandise from apparel and beauty items to office supplies and toys grew 14% year over year, according to NPD data. Those gains added up to $2.9 billion in incremental sales over October 2019.
Nearly every retailer this year has switched their holiday sales approach to motivate a very different kind of behavior. Staggered shopping. Curbside pickup. And having more elbow room, if customers do choose to shop at stores.
At Walmart, for example, the retail giant split up Black Friday into three separate events and has tried to deemphasize the importance of shopping in person by kicking off each one online. The first began Nov. 4.
Some popular holiday gifts won’t be available at stores at all. For example, at Walmart the sought-after videogame consoles Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s XBox Series X — which each cost $499 — will be online only. Other tech-related items, such as the Apple’s AirPods Pro for $50 off and the Apple Watch Series 3 for $60 off, also will be limited to digital deals.
At Best Buy, the videogame consoles will be online only, too — a move to tamp down on long lines and crowds. Almost all of the retailer’s Black Friday deals went live on its website Sunday. They typically appear online Thanksgiving Day.
Home Depot’s holiday gift display will look noticeably different. The retailer ordered more of fewer items and will space them out at the front of the store to allow customers to keep their distance when plucking them off the shelf, Chief Financial Officer Richard McPhail said. It also stretched out its Black Friday specials to nearly two months.
And Target has made it easier for customers to stay out of stores. This holiday season, it’s doubling the number of parking spots devoted to its curbside service, Drive Up, so customers can get their deals online and retrieve them without stepping inside. Drive Up grew by 500% in the third quarter and has exploded in popularity throughout the pandemic.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.