Carnegie Mellon University
September 25, 2020

COVID Extends Black Friday, Moves It Online

By Julie Mattera

Julie Mattera
  • Marketing and Communications
  • 412-268-2902
COVID-19 is changing this year's Black Friday. Already, big box stores trying to balance public health concerns with holiday discounts have announced lengthening their season of deals or putting them online. Home Depot, for instance, has moved its Black Friday deals to a two-month period, while Target and other retailers appear to be extending the holiday discount season.

While shifting tactics could benefit some businesses, Carnegie Mellon University experts say that not all shoppers and stores will shy away from holding in-person sales and frenzied shopping like any other year.

"Whether stores spread out their sales or put them online, that won't really change much because what people are looking for is a good deal," said Jeff Galak, associate professor of marketing in Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business.

Galak expects that sales will largely move online, which isn't a bad thing for retailers. Stores can hopefully still capture most of the sales traffic of a typical Black Friday experience, but now with a much lower overhead and easier inventory management.

"Stores won't need to be staffed to deal with a rush of shoppers, and they don't have to have all the items on site at the store. Instead they can keep products in central warehouses and ship as needed," said Galak, who studies consumer behavior, judgment and decision making. "Additionally, if a customer goes to a physical store, they expect the product to be in their hands when they leave. But with online sales, if a retailer can't keep up with sales to fulfill, say, next day shipping, most customers will still wait, say, a week to get their discounted product."

Galak said some stores still will do one-day Black Friday sales, despite the high risk for infection associated with crowded indoor spaces, and shoppers will come.

"All the evidence right now suggests that there are many business owners who either don't care or don't believe that the virus is a big deal," said Galak. "There also are plenty of cost-conscious shoppers who will gladly take advantage of those sales, and many people are drawn to the excitement of Black Friday shopping."

Gretchen Chapman, a psychology professor in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences who studies decision-making and health behavior, said stores likely won't be as crowded as previous years. But will stores have more people than maybe a public health official would advise? Most likely, she said.

That's because Chapman says people respond to the cues that are associated with traditional or habitual behaviors.

"Those cues for our actions still have some power, which is why we worry about spikes in COVID cases on holidays where it's tradition for people to gather in crowded places," Chapman said. "It's a tradition to shop at brick and mortar stores on Black Friday. People might do less of it, but they will still do more than they did the previous Friday."

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