Holiday 2020 Shopping: Shipping Delays, a Long 'Black Friday' & More

You might want to get your shopping done early

curbside pickup at major retailer

 The Spruce / Hilary Allison

Super early shopping deals, big-box retailers closed on Thanksgiving, and a bigger push for online sales are just some of the changes happening for Black Friday 2020.

Many of the changes are due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers are trying to make up for sales losses earlier in the year, and there are also many concessions being made for shoppers who are still leery of shopping in person and are continuing to buy online or through curbside pickup. In a survey from the savings website RetailMeNot, 88% of consumers say they won’t be shopping traditional in-store doorbusters this year and fewer say they’ll be shopping at all over the Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend.

The sales are “longer than those singular days,” said Sara Skirboll, RetailMeNot’s shopping and trends expert. “We’re referring to it as the ‘Turkey Five’ and expect to see five full days of savings that week” in addition to sales that started in October.

But other changes started happening before the coronavirus and reflect shifts in more people shopping online for the holidays instead of battling for doorbuster deals in person. 

Some Major Retailers Closed on Thanksgiving Day

Perhaps the biggest news for 2020’s Black Friday is that more major retailers, including Walmart and Target are deciding to stay closed on Thanksgiving. Other retailers following suit this year include Best Buy, The Home Depot, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Bed Bath Beyond.

Last year, some stores including IKEA, Dillard’s, PetSmart, Nordstrom, and H&M were already doing so. And Lowe's has a "long-standing tradition" of being closed on Thanksgiving Day.

Earlier and Longer-Lasting Shopping Deals

Traditionally, the morning after Thanksgiving was the official start of Black Friday, causing shoppers to camp out in front of big-box stores and malls overnight. But in recent years, the deals began creeping into Thanksgiving evening or even earlier that week.

But now, October and early November have become the start of Black Friday season, with some retailers such as Home Depot announcing “two months of Black Friday deals” and others such as Amazon, Best Buy, and Target positioning the start of their biggest sales events for mid-October. Amazon typically holds its Prime Day sale event in July, but the company postponed it until mid-October because of the pandemic.

Other retailers who are using October as an early jump on Black Friday: Guess, Old Navy, Gap, Men’s Wearhouse, Office Depot and Office Max, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Skirboll at RetailMeNot said as many as 360 retailers used Amazon’s momentum to launch their own promotions. “Shoppers are definitely joining in,” she said, with 41% of RetailMeNot shoppers saying they started their holiday shopping in October or earlier.

Walmart announced its “reinvented” Black Friday plans with “Deals for Days” during three separate savings events across the month of November, according to the company, with each event to begin online and continue in stores. 

And Lowe's is thinking of the holiday season differently, too. It announced its Season of Savings, beginning Oct. 22. The company said it also will be expanding its gift offerings beyond the home improvement space to include some "unexpected gifts" for Lowe’s, said VP of Merchandising, Bill Boltz, "including small appliances, trampolines, movie projectors, swings, battery-operated scooters," and more.

Lowe's will also install red mailboxes so people can send "letters of gratitude" to home, though they also expect to receive a lot of letters to Santa in them.

More Online Shopping

Shoppers have been drifting from bricks-and-mortar stores to online shopping for a long time, but COVID-19 has accelerated that trend, causing more shoppers to avoid crowds—the Centers for Disease Control says shopping in crowded stores is a higher-risk activity—in favor of free shipping or contactless pickup at retailers’ curbsides.

The question for retailers is whether that trend will continue amid more waves of COVID cases, or whether more shoppers will ease back into in-person shopping. The e-commerce website PYMNTS says that in studies it has done on consumer behavior since mid-March, it found that 84 percent of shoppers say they plan to stick with more digital shopping even after the pandemic is a major concern.

Tyra Johnson, a YouTube content creator in New Orleans, said she started her holiday shopping in mid-October and plans to stick to online shopping only. “I don’t want to risk being exposed to the virus in any way during the holiday season,” she said. “I love the rush of trying to get to the stores first so I can get all the good stuff before it’s gone, but I know that won’t be a thing this year. It’s safer for now.”

Retailers, meanwhile, are trying to extend the shopping season earlier to avoid relying on a holiday windfall that might not happen, especially in a pandemic year with shoppers leery of braving stores. 

online shopping

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida

More Delivery Options

One of the biggest changes among retailers competing with Amazon for holiday shopping is the adoption of same-day delivery or more free delivery options. Walmart offers free unlimited delivery with its Walmart+ service, which costs $12.95 a month, comparable to Amazon Prime. Other stores including Target, Sephora, and Macy’s are offering same-day delivery in partnership with services such as DoorDash, Instacart, or Shipt. 

Many of the largest retailers have been working to improve their online ordering and shipping infrastructure in recent years to compete with Amazon and that will be put to the test this holiday season.

The high volume of online shopping and projected shipping delays by carriers this year might be another reason to start early. Rachael Hensley, a public relations manager in Austin, Texas, said she’s trying to break her last-minute-shopping habits to avoid shipping problems. “I know that mail carriers are expecting some pretty significant shipping delays and I don’t want to risk my gifts not arriving on time,” she said. “This year has been stressful enough. I don’t want to add to that by creating an even more stressful holiday shopping situation for myself.

Pop-ups and Other New Options

Shoppers this year should be in for a few surprises, from small businesses staging local Black Friday-alternative events, to shopping centers putting on outdoor bazaar-style events and parking-lot pop-ups.

Hensley said she’s seen many of the early Amazon shopping deals, but has been more interested in options from smaller retailers. “This year I think I might make more purchases on Etsy or buy from small businesses. I’ve really been drawn to the perseverance many of these businesses have shown through 2020 and would love to help support their success,” she said.

The Washington Post reports that retail analysts believe some shopping centers will seek to ease safety concerns by taking shopping outdoors, as South Coast Plaza in Mesa, California, did this year with a luxury-brand shopping experience on the roof of its parking garage. 

Lululemon is planning pop-up shopping locations this season as well

A few good websites to keep track of Black Friday deals and trends, including what’s different this year, include BlackFriday.com, Slickdeals, and Retail Me Not

Hot Items This Year

As to what shoppers are actually buying this year, experts say that larger-scale toys and home items will be in much-demand in lieu of money spent on family vacations in 2020.

Some items, such as bicycles, workout clothes, and large appliances, are still in short supply, but home electronics such as HDTVs, audio equipment and smartphones will continue to be hot gifts. Other items expected to do well for Black Friday: backyard swing sets, above-ground swimming pools, and trampolines.

Skirboll said that with less travel happening and less options for experiential gifts, tangible, traditional items are more in demand. “You can expect more toys and electronics, office and virtual classroom supplies, flowers, DIY gifts and cars being exchanged this year,” she said. A potential second wave of lockdowns could also spur purchases of pandemic essentials such as air purifiers, cell phone and gadget sanitation stations, and remote-work essentials, Skirboll added.

Johnson said she’s definitely looking for gifts to make work-from-home easier for her loved ones. She said she’s looking for gifts, “that I hope will just make this hard time a little bit happier.”