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What Will Black Friday Look Like This Year?

4 min read • Nov 19, 2020 • Derek Miller

Black Friday has taken on a life of its own in recent years, with many people treating it as its own holiday—with traditions and memories rivaling Thanksgiving itself. We’ve all heard stories of people camping out for days to make sure they were part of the first wave when doors opened at their favorite stores. 

However, this year we’re dealing with a global pandemic, and COVID-19 will have an effect on Black Friday. Will stores sacrifice sales for customer safety and well-being? Will customers forgo in-store doorbusters and instead shop Cyber Monday? 

Let’s take a look at how Black Friday 2020 might look for consumers and businesses alike.

Many Stores Will Stay Closed on Thanksgiving

In recent years, Black Friday has started earlier and earlier, with many doors opening Thanksgiving afternoon. Businesses needed employees to work early on Thanksgiving to prepare effectively for Black Friday shoppers. The pressure to meet consumer demands put a lot of stress on employers and their staff.

However, many companies began rethinking their approach to Black Friday even before COVID-19—allowing employees to spend the holiday at home with their families instead of at the store preparing for the holiday rush. This year, we can expect even more businesses to stay shut on Thanksgiving, both for health and personal reasons. Many popular brands like Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods have decided to take this approach. 

Walmart was one of the first to announce that its stores would be closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Walmart and many other stores are staying closed for customers this year, but they’re still allowing online orders and curbside pickup. These alternatives help businesses meet consumer demand without the health risks and stress on resources that come with Black Friday crowds. 

This approach encourages people to stay home, social distance, and enjoy more family time while still allowing customers to order online with similar doorbuster deals.

E-Commerce Will Be Even More Important

If you think stores closing will deter customers from spending on holiday gifts this year, you’re wrong. Despite the rocky economy, customers are expected to spend 20% more this year than during previous years on Black Friday. This forecast has led some industry leaders to estimate a 25% to 30% increase in the e-commerce marketplace from customers shifting to online shopping during the pandemic. 

You can also expect customers to buy more “things” this year instead of “experiences,” a transition from shopping-years past. For example, spend on travel is expected to drop 34% in 2020 because cruise ships are still docked, travel bans are still in place, and people still feel uneasy about plane travel. 

Shoppers are reallocating their travel and experience budgets, which means more spending on physical gifts.

Increased Shipping Demand Might Delay Your Orders

The increase in e-commerce demand means existing shipping systems might not be able to handle the surge of incoming orders. While the USPS, UPS, FedEx, and other carriers are preparing their best for November and December, there could still be a backlog of orders. 

This bottleneck could pose a challenge for small business owners who mail items before Christmas and need a week or 2 for their orders to arrive. 

You can take steps to help your customers and decrease your liability if orders are delayed. A few steps include:

  • Encourage shoppers to order early and set a deadline for the last shipping day before Christmas. This might fall on December 15 or 16 this year. 
  • Develop a plan for accepting returns after the holiday season. Will you allow customers who order after December 16 to return items for a refund because the package arrived late?
  • Improve your processes for fulfilling and shipping items. As orders come in, try to get the items shipped within 24–48 hours. Every day counts with shipping this year. 
  • Consider offering expedited shipping options on your website. You can charge more for faster shipping and better order tracking. 

These fulfillment trends also emphasize the importance of Black Friday to your business as a whole. You need to get your name out there in November to protect your business from any challenges that arise in late December. 

Failing to make a shipping plan right now could lead to a large backlog of orders and unhappy customers who cancel or return items. Even after the holiday shopping season, your company could experience lower sales and higher levels of distrust if you lose customers or receive a high number of negative reviews due to poor service.

Work With Your Team to Prepare for These Changes

If this isn’t your first year in business, you might be tempted to recreate past Black Friday and holiday shopping plans. However, this is a big mistake. Encourage customers to do their e-commerce shopping earlier than they typically would and ramp up your online advertising efforts. The more orders you can get on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, the less stressed you will feel as your shipping deadline approaches. 

Start training your team members to prepare for Black Friday volumes, both in customer care and fulfillment. Clearly share your policies for shipping and returns. If your employees, vendors, and contractors feel prepared going into the holiday, then they can overcome whatever customer challenges they face.

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Derek Miller

Derek Miller is the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at Great.com, the co-founder of Lofty Llama, and a marketing consultant for small businesses. He specializes in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing, and his work has been featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy, Score.org, and StartupCamp.