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Newsletter: How to snag Black Friday deals while avoiding COVID-19

A shopper on Black Friday in 2019
This kind of deal, from Black Friday 2019, isn’t the trend this year: Hyping big, brief in-store discounts would create crowd-control nightmares during the pandemic. Instead, sales will last weeks.
(Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press)

Good morning. We’re L.A. Times Business section reporters Andrea Chang and Suhauna Hussain and audience engagement editor Rachel Schnalzer bringing you our weekly newsletter. With Thanksgiving just two days away, the holiday shopping season — traditionally kicked off by Black Friday — is almost here.

Black Friday typically features frenzied crowds of shoppers and pre-dawn doorbuster deals, but this year it’s going to be at least a little different. With COVID-19 cases surging nationwide and public health officials urging Americans to stay home as much as possible, plus a new curfew covering nearly all Californians, in-store shopping this holiday weekend is expected to be a more subdued affair. Online shopping, meanwhile, is going to be red hot.

Here’s a look at what’s in store.

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Expect deals for weeks

Some categories of retailers have struggled with store closures and skittish shoppers during these long months of the pandemic, so they’re motivated to move merchandise now.

But trying to pack a bunch of in-person selling into a single shining day or even one long weekend would be a grievous error: Hyping big, brief in-store discounts would create crowd-control nightmares during a time when we’re all supposed to be keeping our distance so as to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

So holiday discounts began earlier than ever this year, and they’re going to last well into December.

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Online is where it’s at

You don’t have to leave home to snag deals.

“The power of Black Friday has been diminishing over the years and now, with COVID, is virtually nonexistent in stores and primarily moved to online,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at market research firm NPD Group. The move online began years ago, and the pandemic “forced what the inevitable already was to speed up.”

Last year the nation’s retailers pulled in record online sales of $7.4 billion on Black Friday, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to data from Adobe. If projections are accurate, this Black Friday will blow past that, with online sales expected to generate $10.3 billion.

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If you shy away from online shopping because you don’t want to deal with package delivery, consider curbside pickup: ordering online, driving to the store and having a worker pop your purchases into the trunk. A lot of chains have adopted it during the pandemic. Even stores that don’t explicitly offer it on their websites are often willing to do it for people who call ahead and ask politely.

Streamline any in-person forays

As you decide whether to go shopping in person, keep your own safety in mind as well as the safety of the workers. Many retail employees have been anxious for months, working with the risk of contracting coronavirus hanging over their heads, and only grown more wary as they brace for an influx of holiday shoppers.

If there are things you simply can’t get online and can’t do without, it would be kind to make your store visits efficient and courteous.

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Make a game plan before you go: Create a list of the items you want and know what sizes you need so you can get in and out quickly, suggests Samuel Thorne, who works as a sales associate at a Nordstrom store in Arcadia.

Thorne also advises cutting down on chaos by shopping solo. During the pandemic, servicing a group of people all at once becomes quickly stressful and potentially dangerous for workers, he says. Boost safety by listening when workers or other shoppers ask you to take a few steps back.

Wearing your mask properly — over your nose and mouth — also helps cut the risk of catching or transmitting the virus. Refraining from eating or drinking inside stores is part of that.

What’ll you get?

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Hot gift categories this year include technology, small domestic appliances, housewares, toys and do-it-yourself auto projects. NPD’s Cohen summed them up as things that help you “live a better life while you’re at home,” since we’ll probably keep spending a lot of their time there well into next year.

Along those lines, apparel sales are expected to be weak — with the exception of sleepwear and slippers, he said.

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◆ “The new Amazon Pharmacy offers customers convenience and potentially lower prices,” writes columnist David Lazarus. But, he asks, “do you really want Amazon’s new drugstore knowing your medical condition?”

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One more thing

Looking for a small turkey this Thanksgiving? Join the crowd.

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Andrea Chang explores how butchers, restaurant chefs and other sellers have gotten creative to meet the demand for pint-sized turkeys this holiday. For example, Whole Foods is hoping to entice first-time Thanksgiving cooks with a “Thanksgiving protection plan.” Chang explains that shoppers who bought a Whole Foods turkey by last Sunday are eligible to submit a claim if they “commit a turkey cooking fail” such as undercooking or overcooking the bird.

For the record: Last week’s newsletter incorrectly said that basic moving insurance often covers only 60 cents per pound for damaged items. In fact, that rate is not insurance but is what moving companies are usually liable for, under federal and state regulations, if the customer does not pay for extra protection or a third-party insurance policy.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.


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