Will the Coronavirus Kill Black Friday?

From Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive to small stores in the heartland of the country, Black Friday has been a financial boon for retailers and companies. Between the coronavirus and skyrocketing internet sales, will this decades-old shopping tradition end?

Will the Coronavirus Kill Black Friday?

Photo: Kippelboy/Wikipedia

I don't remember shopping on Black Friday, or on Thanksgiving weekend, when I was a youngster way back 40-plus years ago. I don't recall seeing the massive sales advertisements in our local newspaper or screamin' deal commercials on television. My attention was directed elsewhere back in those days.

The day after Thanksgiving was reserved for eating leftovers, playing the annual Turkey Bowl football game with friends (tackle, none of this two-hand touch stuff), going hunting or fishing, playing golf (it's still warm, usually, in the Southeast) and relaxing. We didn't travel out of town, other than to hunt, so the weekend was a heck of a relaxing, fun time.

That weekend has been one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year since the 1950s. It's the traditional kickoff to the Christmas and holiday shopping season. Eight or 10 years after World War II ended, newspapers were thriving and television was arriving. Advertising was exploding on both, along with radio. The name Black Friday came about only in the last couple of decades, in part because with such a revenue blast in a short time many retailers could put their financials "in the black."

Could Black Friday as we know it could be on life support? Could the traditional weekend flurry, which now is much more than a post-Thankgiving weekend, be dead? 

Don't count on it.

Black Friday's shopping model isn't going away completely but, as with everything else going on today, will see changes and a surge in online sales. Those who adapt with the changes will survive. Those who sit around and lament "the old days" and pine for "getting back to normal" may be left behind.

According to Deloitte's annual holiday retail forecast, sales are likely to increase between 1% and 1.5% during the holiday season. Overall, Deloitte’s retail and distribution team projects that holiday spending will result in sales between $1.147 billion and $1.152 billion during the November-January timeframe. Deloitte also forecasts that e-commerce sales will grow by 25% to 35%, year-over-year, during the 2020-21 holiday season. That is a significant increase, from 14.7% in 2019.

E-commerce holiday sales are expected to generate between $182 billion and $196 billion this season.

“The lower projected holiday growth this season is not surprising given the state of the economy. While high unemployment and economic anxiety will weigh on overall retail sales this holiday season, reduced spending on pandemic-sensitive services such as restaurants and travel may help bolster retail holiday sales somewhat,” said Daniel Bachman, Deloitte’s U.S. economic forecaster, in a press release. “E-commerce is likely to be a big winner because consumers have shown a clear movement towards buying online rather than at brick and mortar stores.”

Note the e-commerce numbers again: a 25% to 35% increase from a year ago to an estimate of between $182 billion and $196 billion this year.

Have you planned for e-commerce sales? Is your website updated, upgraded, secure and able to handle more volume? If not, you should be investing in that now. It doesn't mean ignoring your in-store shoppers unless your city or state has restrictions due to the coronavirus. You still should be planning for in-store specials, cleaning, getting festive and being as ready as possible.

But if you're not dialed in on the online sales aspect you'll be missing out. As much as hunters, anglers and other outdoors folks like seeing the fit, finish and touching an item in a store, it's far easier to buy online and have it delivered. Or buy online and pick it up at the store. The latter is a great way to make ancillary sales; offer accessories, cleaning supplies or at least be sure to let the buyer know about your ongoing bargains.

You may be thinking, "Well, that Deloitte survey is for 'regular' shopping and not guns, ammo, fishing, boots and stuff." I thought the same. But the company surveyed more than 4,000 people between Sept. 9-15, asking about their financial status and shopping plans. It's a valid, respectable survey and glimpse at what we should expect to come.

National Instant Check System requests, mandatory for each gun sale in a federal firearms license holder business, hit a record in 2019 on Black Friday with more than 202,400 checks. That doesn't mean that number of guns were sold; that's how many checks were requested by FFL holders. Still, that gives you a glimpse that guns, ammo and other outdoors items aren't ignored by Black Friday shoppers. Not by a longshot.

Looking at the FBI's NICS numbers, five of the 10 top figures for checks were in the third week of November every year from 2015-19. I have zero reason to  believe it won't be among the top 10 again this year. I'd wager the Black Friday number this year could be No. 1 based how things have gone so far and, of course, the election outcome. Additionally, in those NICS numbers two of the top 10 weeks have been the week of Christmas in 2012 and 2015. The holidays are big business for the outdoors industry.

I've looked online to purchase fishing items during that weekend to take advantage of sales. Also have popped into some of the big box chains and they were selling rods, line, lures and accessories like crazy. People want good deals. People want fishing items for Christmas, or they want to give them. Whether it's a silly Billy Bass singing fish or a $1,000 Daiwa Steeze combo, fishing is always big business.

Even with the craziness of supply chain disruptions, low availability of ammunition, guns flying off the shelves and fishing tackle sales skyrocketing to the point of "Dang, they're sold out!", there still is reason to be optimistic. Shoppers will be in stores or online. The holidays may give us a respite for this incredibly crazy year, even if we're having to Zoom with Grandma instead of being there to enjoy her Turkey Wing Jello Surprise. There's always a bump in spirits thanks to the holiday and hunting seasons.

Get ready now, if you haven't, for Black Friday. It's not dead or dying.



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