Summer is barely over and US retailers are already fretting over the upcoming holiday shopping season amid fears that not even the coronavirus can keep Americans away from their favorite post-Thanksgiving pastime.
The industry is bracing for a 30 percent jump in brick-and-mortar traffic between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And while that would normally be a good thing, stores this year aren’t equipped to handle too many shoppers at once due to social-distancing requirements.
“We are hearing a lot of worry about the holidays,” said Gabriella Santaniello, president of A Line Partners, a retail research firm.
“How are we going to manage a rush of people” is the primary concern, she said.
Pandora, a popular shopping destination for charms and trinkets, is among the retailers concerned about holiday crowding at a time when it’s limiting store traffic to about 10 people at a time, including four or so sales associates.
“Our stores would not be able to handle the 30 percent greater customer traffic we expect between Black Friday and Christmas,” said Sid Keswani, president of Pandora’s North American operations. “While mall traffic is down, it’s still there.”
Aaron Sanandres, co-founder and chief executive of men’s shirt seller Untuckit, said he, too, fears the holidays could become unruly if shipping companies like UPS continue to be more burdened than usual thanks to the coronavirus.
If customers can’t get what they want in time for Christmas and Hanukkah, they will get in their cars and head to the mall, he said. “One very, very big question mark now is shipping, which could drive people to stores,” he said.
In an effort to curb the crowds, many stores will be doing away with traditional holiday sales tactics, including Black Friday doorbusters, late-night hours and free giveaways. People interested in a post-turkey dinner shopping excursion could have a hard time even finding a store that’s open as a growing number of retailers — Walmart, Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and Best Buy — have said they will keep their workers home Thanksgiving Day.
Black Friday hours will also be pared back. Empire Outlets of Staten Island, for example, plans to open at 8 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, said Travis Noyes, senior vice president of marketing for the outlet center overlooking the New York Harbor.
Last year, Empire Outlets’ 26 stores, including Nike Factory, H&M and Old Navy Outlet, opened for Black Friday at 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day and stayed open all night through the next day until 10 p.m.
Holiday discounting won’t be gone entirely. But rather than condensing Black Friday into a single day or weekend, stores will spread it out over many weeks. Home Depot took this trend to a new level this month when it announced that its Black Friday deals would last two months starting in November.
Retailers will also do more online-only sales, said Kristin McGrath, editor of BlackFriday.com.
“We think retailers will use the terminology, but they’ll be online mostly,” McGrath said.
Pandora has been busy testing ways to reduce its lines to avoid frustrating customers this holiday season.
“We have found that people are willing to wait in line for 11 minutes — but not much longer than that,” Keswani said.
To help hasten the wait, the 300-store chain has set up 6-foot kiosks outside 10 of its stores, including at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, NJ. The kiosks are filled with bestsellers and gift sets that customers can buy without coming inside the store or waiting in line. A Pandora employee is stationed at the kiosk to handle the transaction.
People who choose to wait in line, meanwhile, will be handed a catalog to review to help hasten their decision-making process. Pandora is also rolling out a feature on its app that will allow customers to secure a place in line virtually.
Untuckit, which sells shirts designed to be worn untucked, has also been focused on a new online shopping tool that it hopes will help reduce foot traffic at its 87 stores this holiday season.
“When you pick a store, it will only show you the inventory at that store” to help customers avoid unnecessary shopping excursions, Sanandres said.
“We had this program in the works and thought we’d roll out in 12 to 18 months, but [the pandemic] accelerated it.”
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