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Sales rocket in spite of COVID-19
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By Ernest Gurulé

It has been called Black Friday for years, the day following Thanksgiving when holiday shoppers begin their season-ending spending spree and signaling the day when retailers can move out of the red and firmly into the black. And while brick and mortar stores might have liked things a slightly darker shade of black, they did their part to lure shoppers inside and out of the cold.

Impacting this season’s bottom line, what else? COVID-19, the deadly virus that has Infected more than 12 million Americans and killed more than 265,000 across the country in the last ten months while keeping people out of stores.For months, shop-lined streets have seen foot traffic drop off in ways not seen in decades. Shopping malls once routinely flooded with shoppers, especially on the weekends, have seen the same paucity of crowds. Black Friday, they hoped, would change all that. And it did, kind of.

Instead of window shopping, many consumers went inside looking for the bargains that merchants offer during the holidays. But a growing number of shoppers---more than ever---did what is now the most convenient way to shop, at home and online, avoiding crowds, the cold, and the inconvenience of repeating the old way of doing it. They let their fingers do the walking. In the process, they made Black Friday a red-letter weekend for retailers.

According to Adobe Analytics, an online marketing company that tracks shopping trends, Black Friday 2020 sales hit $9 billion, a 15 percent increase from last year’s $7.4 billion. Cyber Monday, Black Friday’s online bookend, is expected to generate another $11 billion in sales, another record. To reach the weekend’s totals, shoppers spent an average of $6.3 million each minute in online shopping. A lot of that shopping, $3.6 billion worth, was done on smart phones.

This season’s idea of the perfect gift came with either extension cords or batteries. Electronics topped gift lists. And most came with discounts. Retail and big box stores slashed computer prices by as much as 27 percent, televisions 19 percent and appliances 18 percent.

This year’s Black Friday moved on a different timeline than years past. Retailers didn’t wait until late November. Anticipating the impact of COVID-19, Black Friday pricing began as early as October. Electronic giant, Best Buy, summed it up by proclaiming “Black Friday isn’t just one day this year…it’s months long.” Target and Walmart also joined the new trend with the former teasing customers back in October, the latter following suit online in early November. Home Depot and Lowe’s also joined in earlier than normal. A number of stores also offered free home delivery.

Malls, while seeing crowd sizes smaller than previous years, were slashing prices from 25 percent to as much as 65 percent on storewide merchandise. But at Denver’s Cherry Creek Mall and Broomfield’s Flatirons Mall, crowd sizes seemed to be slashed just as much. They were a ghost of previous years. “It was busy on Saturday,” said sales associate Ella, who asked her last name not be used. But “not busy the way it was before COVID.”

On North Denver’s Tennyson Street, once chock-a-block with mid-20th Century retail and entertainment but now populated with the upscale and urbane, things were looking up. The street has morphed from a clutter of music stores, diners, and dive bars to a mixture of 21st Century retail potpourri that includes ice cream and yogurt shops, hipster bars and restaurants and coffee stops where five-dollar, all-natural muffins tempt shoppers. Weekend crowds, while not great, were more than respectable.

Nicole Wolsey-Neech, co-owner of Jolly Goods, a small hip-and-chic boutique specializing in handmade items, clothing, jewelry and ‘unique gifts,’ said Small Business Saturday (and Sunday) were crucial. “It’s important to have small business support because of the craziness going on in the world right now,” she said. “To see the support from the community and beyond was really humbling to us…I definitely cried a few times.”

Like so many other businesses that surround hers, Small Business Saturday breathed life and shone light into her store, two things in woeful supply for the last several months. The virus, she said, forced her to lock her doors for three straight months last spring. “Having no income coming in and still having to pay rent and utilities,” were tough. Finally reopening, said the small businesswoman, “we were like kind of hoping that people show up.” For at least one weekend, they did. A full exhale remains on hold.

For at least a while, Black Friday was painted green. Cash registers hummed as shoppers, in-store or online, spent and then spent some more. Another big beneficiary of this sudden willingness to open wallets were airlines, many of whom offered incentives to fill planes with holiday travelers.

It’s estimated that more than a million people went through airports each day from last Wednesday to Sunday. That is actually well below previous years, but the biggest numbers airlines have experienced since the coronavirus became an everyday reality. But the rush may come with a price.

Going home for the holiday may have lifted spirits but may also portend the nation’s health over the next several weeks. Travelers exposed to family in intimate settings, large crowds in airports or crammed next to strangers on holiday flights may have also risked exposing themselves or others to the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s top voice on COVID-19, has warned that holiday travel was potentially dangerous and rolling the dice with personal and public health. The next two weeks, he said, could show a spike in infections, perhaps one as big as last spring’s, before the end of the year.





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