Holiday shopping -- especially on Black Friday -- is going to be a lot different this year. That’s because many consumers remain hesitant about being in the midst of in-store crowds during the middle of a global health pandemic. In fact, 60% of shoppers say they plan to buy most of their holiday gifts online, according to the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual holiday survey (opens in new tab). As a result, retailers are revamping their approach to holiday sales in an effort to entice shoppers to spend (more) while limiting any potential exposure to COVID-19.
We spoke with several smart shopping experts to find out what kinds of changes consumers can expect to see. Here’s what they had to say.
Holiday Sales Will Launch Much Earlier
With Amazon transitioning its Prime Day from July to mid-October and Target’s Deal Day and Walmart’s Big Save events occurring at the same time, many consumers started holiday shopping weeks ago. Some were able to snag deep discounts on everything from home goods to electronics. At Walmart, for example, Samsung’s 55-Inch Q60 4K QLED HDR Smart TV was available for $598 -- marked down $100 from the original retail price.
Since holiday deals have already begun, shoppers can expect to see less emphasis on specific big shopping days, such as Black Friday (November 27) and Cyber Monday (November 30), says smart shopping expert Trae Bodge of TrueTrae.com (opens in new tab). For example, Sam’s Club is already promoting its “10 Days of Thanks-Savings” sale (running November 20-29), in lieu of its usual Black Friday weekend event. If you’re looking to score a deal on a desktop or laptop computer, computer manufacturer Dell’s Black Friday sneak peek sale is currently available online (with more doorbuster deals launching November 16-28).
More Consumers Will Switch to Online Shopping
Since the start of the pandemic, many shoppers transitioned to buying needed items online -- from groceries to household goods -- to limit their exposure to the virus. Brick-and-mortar retailers have taken note. In addition to in-store doorbusters, they’ll be ramping up their online offerings significantly. That's because “no one wants a crush of shoppers fighting over the last cheap TV,” says Saundra Latham, a senior staff writer for Cheapism.com (opens in new tab).
Consumers who plan to shop for the holidays from home will find the biggest savings starting on Monday, November 23 and in the days leading up to Black Friday. During this time, sale prices on Kohls.com, HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com and the like will be most similar to what you’d find in-store on Black Friday, says Kyle James, founder of Rather-Be-Shopping.com (opens in new tab).
Expect Shipping Delays to Get Worse
If you’ve been shopping primarily online these past several months, then you’re all too familiar with the rise in shipping delays from all the major carriers. Going into the 2020 holiday season, retailers are expecting delays to be even worse as shipping volume increases, notes Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst for DealNews.com (opens in new tab). Chronic procrastinators may not be able to rely on expedited shipping options to deliver gifts on time either. That’s why you’ll want to start filling up and checking out your virtual carts sooner rather than later -- especially if you’re set on buying a physical gift versus a gift card, she says.
Gift Cards Will Become More Popular
Consumers who scoffed at giving gift cards as presents in years past because they seem too impersonal may have a change of heart this time around. Giving gift cards is a smart alternative to fending off crowds or spending a fortune on shipping costs to snag a physical gift. Even better, 54% of consumers surveyed by the NRF say they’d prefer to receive gift cards this holiday season.
You can buy physical gift cards online and have them sent via snail mail to your designated gift recipients. Or if you’ve waited until the last minute to purchase the gift card, send a digital version instead -- immediately! -- via email, recommends DealNews.com’s Ramhold. You can purchase gift cards online directly from your retailer of choice or through a gift card exchange site such as GiftCardGranny.com (opens in new tab). At GiftCardGranny, you can buy pre-owned gift cards at discounted prices or e-gift cards at any desired amount from a variety of retailers including DSW Shoe Warehouse, Macy’s and REI.
Brick-and-Mortar Retailers to Ramp Up Curbside Pickup Options
Those who don’t want to worry about a barrage of boxes being delivered to their front door (because . . . porch pirates!) can take advantage of convenient options to order online and pick up in-store or curbside. Shoppers can expect special discounts for choosing to pick up online purchases over the Black Friday weekend from big-box retailers and small businesses alike, says consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch (opens in new tab).
TrueTrae.com’s Bodge notes that “online order, in-store pickup” might be the only way to shop at some stores this holiday season. For example, Macy’s has announced that selected locations will be closed to the public on Black Friday. Instead, these stores will be used as online order pickup points and shipping fulfillment centers.
Longer Wait Times for In-Store Shoppers on Black Friday
For those who decide to venture in-store over the Black Friday shopping weekend, don’t be shocked by longer lines and even longer wait times to get inside. Many big-box retailers will be incorporating COVID-related safety measures that will limit the volume of shoppers inside. At least you won’t have to wait outside in the cold this year: Visit Target.com/line (opens in new tab) before you leave home to see how long the wait is, and reserve a spot in line. Stay warm in your car in the parking lot while you await a text from Target to notify you when it’s your turn to enter the store.
Holiday Return Policies Will Be Extended
With Black Friday sales starting much earlier this year, retailers will be extending their return policies to better accommodate early-bird shoppers and gift recipients (who may not receive the items until several weeks after they’ve been purchased). In fact, a few retailers have already announced adjustments to their standard return policies in anticipation of the holidays.
At Amazon (opens in new tab), items purchased October 1 - December 31, 2020 may be returned until January 31, 2021, if they were sold and shipped by the e-commerce giant (as opposed to one of its third-party sellers). Walmart’s standard return policy is already generous at 90 days for most items, and it is expanding its return window for electronics such as digital music players and GPS systems that normally must be returned within 14 days of purchase. Electronics purchased October 16 - December 25, 2020 may be returned to Walmart until January 8, 2021. Check out Walmart’s full list of holiday return policy deadlines (opens in new tab).
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