Malls Adapt With Santas Behind Plexiglass: Black Friday Update

With sparse crowds and none of the stampedes of holidays past, some retail watchers started to refer to Black Friday as Blasé Friday instead -- and that was even before the virus hit.

Malls Adapt With Santas Behind Plexiglass: Black Friday Update

The sluggish in-person traffic reported in 2019 is only expected to thin out further this year, as mall-wary shoppers trade in midnight doorbusters for digital deals. But don’t let the shift to online shopping fool you: It’s still shaping up to be a record year for holiday retail sales (and the logistics companies that’ll deliver them.)

Here’s a look at the latest information available on Black Friday spending in the U.S., with all time stamps reflecting the U.S. East Coast:

Malls Forced to Try New Things Amid Pandemic (3:24 p.m.)

Malls are approaching the holiday season much differently this year. But the retailers, small businesses and restaurants at shopping centers owned by CBL & Associates Properties Inc. are making it work, according to CEO Stephen Lebovitz.

At one of his malls in Kentucky, where indoor dining is restricted, a health-inspector approved tent was set up in the parking lot. Santa sits behind plexiglass and of course there’s no sitting on his lap.

“Even though the crowds aren’t what they’re going to be in a 2019 Black Friday, they’re still strong crowds and we’ve seen strong traffic across the board,” he said in an interview. Shoppers who do venture to the mall have a higher conversion rate; they’re often leaving stores with bags in their hands.

And he is betting the Santa of past Black Fridays will return, including with photo ops for pets.

“This year we haven’t been able to bring our pets to get their picture taken with Santa. That was very popular,” Lebovitz said. “I guarantee you that that will be something that will come back.”

CBL owns 68 malls and open-air retail centers.

Black Friday Isn’t a Social Event This Year (2:15 p.m.)

Remember gathering in crowds to shop just for fun? Last Black Friday was certainly a different world.

“In years past, I feel like Black Friday seemed like a time where people kind of hung out and got together and sort of had a little bit of a reunion,” said Jenna Lynn Pogorzelski, a retail leader at Deloitte. This year, not so much. The food courts at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania were almost completely empty, she said, and shoppers “went into the stores they wanted to and did some browsing and then they got out pretty quickly.”

Bobby Stephens, a leader in Deloitte Digital’s retail and consumer products practice, witnessed a similar trend. Most of the in-person shopping is “with a purpose, to make a purchase specifically,” he said. “It’s not your typical browsing, get a group of people together, have brunch, walk around for several hours.”

The Crowds Will Return Next Year (1:40 p.m.)

Americans have gotten used to delivery, but don’t count out Black Friday 2021 just yet.

“I expect doorbusters to return next year,” said Poonam Goyal, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. With the virus hopefully gone and capacity limits no longer an issue, retailers will try to make the shopping day feel festive again. “Retailers will aim to strike a better balance with online and stores as they move forward.”

The Year of Yoga Pants Continues (1:15 p.m.)

Lululemon Athletica once again is a winner in 2020. After outpacing the market this year thanks to huge demand for comfortable apparel, the retail chain seems to be the hottest place this Black Friday, according to Jenna Lynn Pogorzelski, a retail leader at Deloitte.

At one of the biggest shopping centers in the U.S., the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania, millennial women flocked to buy Lulu’s famous leggings, said Pogorzelski, who visited the retailer this morning. Employees checked customers into a virtual queue, and if that line was too long, they could also stop by a pop-up store the company set up in another area of the mall.

That trend was just as clear across the country, with a similar line outside the Lululemon at Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona.

Lululemon shares climbed 2.1% Friday afternoon in New York, adding to a 2020 gain of 54% through Wednesday’s close.

England’s Shopping Day Nears End With Light Sales (12:40 p.m.)

Black Friday in the U.K. was subdued as expected. Barclaycard Payments, which says it processes nearly one out of every three pounds spent there, says the volume of payments was down 16.7% at 4 p.m. local time compared to Black Friday last year.

“The real focus now will be on Wednesday -- the end of the national lockdown in England -- when we predict that shoppers heading back to the high street will bring about a ‘Black Wednesday,’ with transactions likely surpassing what we’ve seen today,” said Rob Cameron, CEO of Barclaycard Payments.

Stretchy Pants, Work-From-Home Items Big Sellers (12:30 p.m.)

Americans have been buying elastic-waisted pants and mood-lifting throw pillows all pandemic long, so why stop now?

At Scottsdale Fashion Square in Arizona, lines had formed outside stretch-pants purveyor Lululemon Athletica Inc. as well as Bath & Body Works -- whose hand sanitizers, candles and soaps have made it a coronavirus winner.

“Anything that’s to do with nesting and the home seems to be doing well, which is what we’ve seen during the pandemic as a whole, so it’s just a continuation of that trend,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of Global Data Retail, who visited the mall around 11 a.m. local time. “Things like fashion stores, some of the luxury stores, there are people in them, but it’s a lot more subdued. Department stores are pretty quiet as well.”

Electronics to support an extended work-from-home set-up, like external keyboards and mouse devises, are also poised for a big day, said Joseph Feldman, senior managing director and assistant director of research at Telsey Advisory Group. Shoppers are looking for “things to make their living environment a little more fun and a better experience for them,” he said on Bloomberg TV.

Shipping Times Holding Up Amid High Demand (12:21 p.m.)

Data from Convey, a supply-chain data analytics firm, shows that the U.S. is so far avoiding a “Shipageddon.” November delays and delivery times are fairly steady from October -- or even a bit improved, “perhaps reflecting additional capacity added by carriers during the peak holiday season,” Baird analyst Colin Sebastian said in a note to clients, citing the Convey data.

Nonetheless, delays and bottlenecks are expected to increase in coming weeks as Black Friday tests logistics companies’ capacity.

Baird said that a slower-than-expected shopping day on Thanksgiving may be a blip as Black Friday sales appear strong.

Video Calls Give Wary Shoppers a New Option (12:10 p.m.)

A socially distanced Black Friday means some stores are turning to unusual strategies to make a sale. Chico’s, for instance, is using video calls.

Store employees are reaching out to clients virtually and through the apparel seller’s digital tools like Style Connect to show them new shoes and jackets, according to Chico’s FAS Inc. CEO Molly Langenstein. In one instance it resulted in a $2,000 sale.

“It’s another way of reaching out to customers, especially for the Black Friday weekend and going for customers who aren’t comfortable to go into a store,” Langenstein said in an interview.

This weekend customers are booking private appointments with employees and coming in before or after store hours as a way to avoid crowds.

Malls, Big-Box Stores Draw Smaller Crowds (11:25 a.m.)

As the shopping day gets underway, crowds remain thinner than normal across the U.S.

At a small-format Target store in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, the scene was calm and peaceful at about 9 a.m. local time. The location that opened two hours earlier has capped customer capacity at just 50.

The store was stocked neatly with discounted Legos, sweaters for 30% off, Ghirardelli holiday chocolates and Native skincare items. Two women browsed the health-care aisle, while another grabbed a small basket for shopping -- not the full-size carts Black Friday used to require.

At International Plaza and Bay Street mall in Tampa, Florida, a half-full parking lot still allowed shoppers to easily find a spot shortly after the stores opened at 9 a.m. Lindsay Grinstead, marketing and sponsorship director at the mall, said traffic has been strong since it reopened in May. New safety measures have helped the mall gain shoppers’ trust: It provided the stores with a virtual-line app that allows customers to scan a QR code and save their spot in the queue without having to physically stand in line. The mall also doubled the curbside pick-up capacity to more than 100 parking spaces. Masks are required inside the mall as well as in the stores, with some, like Hollister and Forever 21, even providing masks at their entrances.

“We have been really pleasantly surprised that people have wanted to come back out and been shopping,” Grinstead said. “I can imagine that will continue through the holiday season.”

Crowds Are Light at Largest U.S. Department Store (11:18 a.m.)

It looked more like a normal day than the busiest shopping event of the year at Macy’s Herald Square, the biggest department store in the U.S. In a typical year, crowds stream in through the flagship’s main entrance as TV cameras document the frenzy. In 2020, it’s barely a trickle.

Malls Adapt With Santas Behind Plexiglass: Black Friday Update

The 2.5 million-square-foot Manhattan store is one of the worst performers in Macy’s network, with few of the international tourists and office workers it relies upon for sales. Still, Macy’s dressed up the windows to welcome those venturing out for deals on shoes and handbags. CEO Jeff Gennette even planned to be on hand to rally his staff. “I’ll be looking for happy colleagues and engaged customers,” Gennette said last week in an interview.

Macy’s and its department store rivals are hoping for a strong holiday after a dismal year. With weak foot traffic at urban locations, they’ll need robust e-commerce sales to carry them through the final quarter of the year. Department stores typically get about a quarter of their annual sales in November and December.

Fifth Avenue Traffic Is Light (10:42 a.m.)

Fifth Avenue without tourists is just a regular city sidewalk, even on Black Friday. New Yorkers going about their day seemed to outnumber those visiting stores. The line outside the Philippine Consulate was longer than the tiny queue to get into Zara.

The street’s cornerstones are trying their best, though, with Saks Fifth Avenue fully adorned in Christmas decor and holiday lights to welcome the few shoppers inside. To watch the annual light show, passers-by can scan a barcode to see it virtually –- the usual in-person event didn’t happen this year. Apple set up crowd-control ropes outside its glass cube to guide people to the side entrance, but they didn’t seem needed since there wasn’t a line. Best Buy’s barricades weren’t so useful either.

Other luxury stores, including Bergdorf Goodman and Louis Vuitton, decided it wasn’t worth the trouble to open early, and won’t let shoppers in until late in the morning.

Gap Reports ‘Accelerated Volumes and Transactions’ (10:41 a.m.)

For Gap Inc., which also owns Old Navy and Athleta, anticipating the needs of the customer is especially challenging this year, according to John Strain, Gap’s chief digital and technology officer.

“It is a hard season to predict,” Strain said in an interview. He added that the company has been seeing “strong growth” along with “accelerated volumes and transactions,” referring specifically to its third quarter that just ended.

Thanksgiving Spending Lower Than Expected (10:19 a.m.)

Thanksgiving Day online spending came in nearly $1 billion lower than predicted in the U.S., signaling consumers didn’t wait until this week to start shopping and retailers’ efforts to spread gift buying actually worked.

Digital spending on Thursday totaled $5.1 billion, according to Adobe Analytics. While that’s a record for the day and a 21.5% boost year on year, it’s still well below the $6 billion figure the company had been predicting just one day ago.

“While yesterday was a record-breaking Thanksgiving Day with over $5 billion spent online, it didn’t come with the kind of aggressive growth rate we’ve seen with the start of the pandemic,” Taylor Schreiner, director at Adobe Digital Insights, said in an email, noting that many customers are also still waiting for Cyber Monday to pull the trigger on big-ticket items.

Salesforce Sees Online Growth of 18% (10:08 a.m.)

Salesforce projects Black Friday’s web sales will grow 18% today from a year ago to $56.5 billion. U.S. growth will be 15% and reach $11.9 billion, according to the provider of e-commerce tools.

E-commerce has been up all week, Salesforce reports, and companies are increasingly turning to new ways to connect with customers, including text messages and push notifications. More consumers are engaging with brands on social media websites as well, with the platforms accounting for 11% of U.S. web traffic on Thanksgiving.

Rob Garf, Salesforce’s vice president of strategy and insights, said in an email that the online surge could set up a shipping crunch for retailers.

“We are seeing a shopping surge during Cyber Week that will challenge logistical capabilities of many retailers,” Garf said. “The winners and losers this holiday season will be defined by shipping and their ability to get gifts to the doorstep for the remainder of the holiday season.”

On the other side of the equation, Cowen predicts that physical-store traffic will drop 30% to 40% for the Black Friday holiday period, which is this week including Sunday, while cyber sales growth rates could climb 70% or even higher. Based on the firm’s store and mall observations in the early Black Friday morning hours, electronics, video game consoles, accessories and activewear were among the “better performing categories,” analyst Oliver Chen wrote in a note to clients.

He reported foot traffic was busiest at Kohl’s Corp., Target Corp. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc.

Retailer Stocks Rally on Big Digital Spending Day (9:41 a.m.)

U.S. retailers with a strong online presence rose in Friday morning trading.

Etsy Inc., the marketplace for handmade crafts and vintage items, was the biggest gainer on the S&P 500 index as of 9:41 a.m., climbing as much as 6%. Online home-goods seller Wayfair Inc. rose as much as 3.7%, while GameStop Corp. -- a seller of the season’s popular video game consoles -- was up as much as 9.8%.

Europe’s Black Friday Isn’t What It Used to Be (9:15 a.m.)

Black Friday across Europe has been a complicated affair this year. With full and partial lockdowns still underway in many European countries, including England, many shops are not open. That means most Black Friday promotions are online only, presenting a logistical challenge for many retailers who have to simultaneously cope with increased online traffic while preparing to reopen stores in December post-lockdowns.

Many of Europe’s retailers have offered promotions throughout all of November rather than on Black Friday itself in a bid to spread out the demand. Others, including Marks & Spencer Group Plc and Next Plc, are not participating in Black Friday this year at all, arguing they offer good value all year round.

Barclaycard Payments, which says it processes nearly one out of every three pounds spent in the U.K., says the volume of payments there was down 13.2% as of 9 a.m. local time on Black Friday.

In France, Black Friday has taken on a political tone with small shopkeepers complaining that government-mandated store closures are gifting market share to Amazon.com Inc. The fallout has resulted in Amazon and some of France’s biggest retailers agreeing to delay Black Friday until all stores, including small operators, have reopened next month.

In-Person Shopping Crowds Are Sparse (9:00 a.m.)

At many big U.S. retailers, the morning crowds have been thin -- just as expected.

Joseph Feldman, senior managing director and assistant director of research at Telsey Advisory Group, visited a Best Buy and a Dick’s Sporting Goods around dawn in Westchester County, just north of New York City, and things were “quite quiet.” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said a Best Buy he checked out in Scottsdale, Arizona, had barriers set up in the parking lot for crowd control -- but no crowds.

Still, those shoppers who woke up for the event came ready to spend. “Conversion is high. Anyone out this early is buying something,” Feldman said in an email.

TVs and home-office equipment looked like the big sellers at Best Buy, Feldman said in an interview on Bloomberg TV. At Dick’s, sportswear from Nike, Adidas and Under Armour appeared to be hot items.

“People are still focused on the main areas of fitness, home, home office, and trying to find some joy,” he said.

Good Luck Finding a PlayStation (8:45 a.m.)

Gaming consoles are the hot-ticket item today. After retailers saw online releases sell out within minutes in recent days, it seems that camping might be the only way to get your hands on one now -- for retail prices, at least. From Norfolk, Virginia, to Denver and Salinas, California, shoppers lined up as soon as Thursday afternoon at GameStop locations -- some set up tents -- to get their hands on the coveted Playstation 5 and Xbox consoles.

“There’s always an item, or a few items, people can’t find. The big hot item this year is Sony PlayStation 5 and Xbox from Microsoft,” Joseph Feldman, senior managing director and assistant director of research at Telsey, said in a Friday morning interview on Bloomberg Surveillance. “Those are the two new items that I keep hearing people ask for, especially at Best Buy and GameStop, and you just can’t find them right now.” To limit crowds, Best Buy chose to only release the newest consoles online.

Google searches for gaming products were up again this week, according to a note from Baird Equity Research. Interest for “World of Warcraft” was up 96% after the launch of its latest expansion pack, while “FIFA Ultimate Team” was up 43% this week. The term “gaming headset” also saw a consistent increase in internet searches, up 24% week over week.

With all the interest in gaming, the new consoles are sure to draw crowds wherever they release. But there’s one reliable way to get your hands on them without lining up -- pay resale. The consoles, which retail around $400 to $500 apiece, are selling for more than $1,000 on eBay.

Cyber Monday Is Still Happening, Too (7:15 a.m.)

Cyber Monday -- an online shopping tradition invented 15 years ago when the office’s internet connection was crucial to digital ordering -- is still a go, retailers say, even though consumers have been buying gifts from their iphones for weeks now.

Target Corp. announced on Friday that its deals for Cyber Monday -- which actually spans a full “Cyber Week” -- will include a day of limited-time flash sales for the first time, encouraging shopped-out shoppers to come back and spend again.

Adobe Analytics, which tracks online ordering in the U.S., expects “record setting shopping days this week with Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2020 becoming the largest two online sales day in history.”

Black Friday Started Weeks, If Not Months, Ago (12:01 a.m.)

Let’s be honest: Black Friday hasn’t been a single day in a long time. For years now, retailers have been rolling out deals earlier and earlier, and this year was no exception. Many companies started their holiday promotions online in October.

That has pulled forward some sales that would normally be made this weekend. Adobe Analytics, which tracks online spending in the U.S., had said Thursday morning that online sales on Thanksgiving Day would hit an all-time high of $6 billion. But the Thanksgiving Day pace hasn’t been as brisk as it thought, and revised its outlook in the evening to less than $6 billion.

“Retailers of all sizes appear to have successfully moved shoppers to buy earlier in the season with early discounts and effective promotions,” it said in an email, noting that Thanksgiving Day sales were still expected to increase as the night progressed.

Americans who aren’t visiting family also seem to be shopping more. According to Adobe, online sales growth was 47% higher in states where gatherings of people from outside immediate households are prohibited.

In-Person Shopping Will Look a Lot Different (12:01 a.m.)

For those Americans who do choose to shop on Friday in the flesh, it’s going to be a much different shopping experience. Walmart Inc. has said it will limit the number of customers inside its stores to just 20% of usual capacity as the threat of the coronavirus looms over this holiday shopping season.

Malls Adapt With Santas Behind Plexiglass: Black Friday Update

Other changes to the in-store setup include sanitized carts and directions to help shoppers avoid one another when browsing, Walmart said earlier this fall.

At rival Target Corp., another pandemic winner, in-person shoppers encountering a line to get inside can reserve a spot and get a text when it’s their time to enter.

Local, Minority-Owned Stores May Get a Boost (12:01 a.m.)

Three quarters of American consumers plan to shop at businesses whose values line up with their own, a study from Mastercard SpendingPulse showed.

Consumers say they will prefer to spend at local establishments and those owned by minorities and women, according to the survey, conducted online from Oct. 8 to Oct. 13. And just over half of those interviewed said they’d prefer no gift at all over receiving one from a retailer whose views differ from their own.

The study indicates that rapid change in shopping habits, fueled in part by this year’s global pandemic and unrest related to racial inequality, have staying power. While it’s not unusual for younger generations of consumers to make a political statement with their shopping list, that trend is now widening to new demographics, according to Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard and former chief executive officer of Saks Inc.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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