Will Black Friday Exist in 2020? What Retail Store Owners Can Expect the Holidays to Look Like

black friday

It's time to throw out the old playbook. 2020 will bring a Black Friday unlike anything we’ve seen before. According to the National Retail Federation, forecasting 2020 holiday sales is like “assembling a jigsaw puzzle without all of the pieces.”

Social distancing will be the most obvious change, but there are two other themes we can expect to see emerge during Black Friday 2020:

  • A heavy focus on ecommerce. Black Friday 2019 saw 93 million shoppers buying online, but this year we can expect social distancing and health concerns to expand this trend even further.
  • An extended season of holiday deals. Many of the top retail store owners are avoiding a single Black Friday offering. Their goal is to avoid the typical rush of foot traffic on November 27, so they’re planning to spread sales out over the holidays.

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 caused widespread economic disruption, but retail demand doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Amazon (which already had its Prime Day) reported record-breaking sales numbers this year.

What does this all mean? 

Ecommerce stores will face stiff competition if they’re not prepared. This year’s holiday season will bring a different sort of Black Friday. Yes, Black Friday will exist, but it may not look like any other Black Friday retail store owners have ever seen. 

2020 may just be a turning point in the way brands handle the holiday season. Here’s more about what you should expect.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: Get the playbook retail store owners are using to navigate this holiday season. The 2020 Holiday Playbook for Retail Stores

Black Friday 2020: What to expect this year

The holiday shopping season isn’t going anywhere, but it’s fair to say 2020 might stretch Black Friday across an entire season, not just one day. 

This begs the question: Has Black Friday as we know it become obsolete?

Black Friday is spreading out across multiple sales events

This year, Black Friday falls on November 27, but health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19 have changed things. Expect less emphasis on a specific Black Friday date in 2020. As the New York Times notes, Black Friday is “less a single shopping day and more a mentality.”

"Black Friday is less a single shopping day and more a mentality.”

Big-box stores are already preparing for this new reality: Walmart’s Black Fridays Deals for Days includes three separate sales events. Best Buy launched its own Black Friday sales earlier in the year to compete with Amazon’s Prime Day, and other retailers like Macy’s, Home Depot, and Target have done the same

In short: Not only will Black Friday be different this year, in many respects, it’s already started. Because of this, retail store owners of all sizes can expect a shift away from an emphasis on one single day (or weekend) during the holiday shopping season.

Customers are looking for alternatives to in-person shopping

Black Friday isn’t going anywhere, but neither are many Black Friday customers. They still want savings on holiday purchases…they just want to get them without long lines or the risks that come with shopping in person and being around crowds. 

Because of this, customers are looking for alternatives to in-person shopping. In fact, 52% are planning to skip shopping in person altogether this year. Some customers are adapting by getting holiday shopping done early, while others are opting for alternative purchase fulfilment options like local pickup.

In short: This Black Friday, shoppers need options. It will be important for retailers to help customers feel safe—and this means introducing new pickup options, being flexible, and accommodating shoppers’ safety concerns.

Will stores be open on Black Friday this year?

Retailers are wary of heavy foot traffic during a pandemic. As a consequence, we can expect much of the typical in-store shopping to be shut down on Thanksgiving. That applies even to some of the largest retailers, including Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s.

However, many stores will be open on Black Friday. Some of these retailers are considering creative ways to limit foot traffic by deploying things like lotteries and appointment scheduling that would allow customers to shop in waves, without concerns about an overcrowded store.

These strategies are aimed at keeping retailers out of the news (and away from risk of fines) if hordes of shoppers flood retail stores and violate local mandates.

When do holiday sales start?

If Black Friday 2020 is going to look different compared to previous years, what is it going to look like? When are holiday sales going to start this year?

Many sales have already started. As we mentioned earlier, expect Black Friday sales to take a more seasonal approach to shopping as opposed to single day extravaganzas.

Take a look at Google Trends, for example. Trends for “Black Friday sale” are already hinting at increased interest throughout the month of October. As such, retailers are taking advantage and implementing intermittent sales throughout the season.

black friday sale google trends

This is why it’s so difficult to find an official kick-off date for holiday sales this year. 

Start dates for holiday season deals are all over the calendar:

  • Home Depot is offering two months of Black Friday–like deals to end the year.
  • Kohl’s is closing stores on Thanksgiving and incorporating a Black Friday week. 
  • Sam’s Club will incorporate “November savings” throughout the month. 
  • Target has already rolled out deals throughout October and will do the same through November.
  • Walmart is offering multiple sales events, with the first of three starting in early November.
  • Amazon’s “Holiday dash” is expected to take the edge off of Black Friday.

The result: There is no definite start date to Black Friday this year. It appears that the midnight after Thanksgiving is no longer the “green flag” moment kicking off the height of the holiday shopping season. As such, smaller retail store owners should take note of this emerging trend, too.

How is COVID-19 changing Black Friday?

The more operative question might be: how isn’t COVID-19 going to change Black Friday

In some cases, it will only accelerate trends, such as an increased emphasis on ecommerce. In other cases, it means new innovations like spreading holiday deals throughout October to December. 

Here are two key areas we think COVID-19 will leave a permanent mark on Black Friday beyond 2020.

1. Ecommerce will thrive

This year, some of the heat is off around Black Friday. But that doesn’t mean anyone with an ecommerce store should expect Black Friday to be anything less than a major sales holiday. If anything, more shoppers will be going the online route this year than ever before.

Here are two signs that ecommerce will face huge demand:

  • As far back as August, Google’s Cloud division was preparing for a massive surge in fourth-quarter sales. How serious could the spike in traffic be? Google Cloud’s Carrie Tharp told Reuters, “We’re planning for peak on top of peak.”
  • Savvy online shoppers who want to avoid the hustle and bustle of Black Friday may have already stayed home in years past. In 2018, for example, Cyber Monday became one of the largest shopping extravaganzas in existence, with $7.8 billion in sales.

This year, COVID-19 will only force more shoppers to stay home. Rather than waiting through long, socially distanced lines and doing regular temperature checks, shoppers can still get their holiday savings by shopping online. 

And with many retail store owners already announcing they’ll be closed for Thanksgiving, there simply won’t be as much momentum for physical shopping as in years past.

2. Increased online competition

Spreading Black Friday offerings more thinly isn’t enough for some retail store owners: they know just how much foot traffic they get on Black Friday, so if they’re going to stay on track for their sales goals, they’re going to have to direct some of the demand online.

That said: anyone in ecommerce needs to be prepared for an influx of competition and demand. 

That’s one reason for the increased stress on Google’s Cloud systems. According to its data, online demand has already skyrocketed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The holiday season is expected to increase that demand even more.

The implication for retailers: even something as simple as preparing for increased shipping demand could put you at an advantage over your competitors.

Retail store owners are already engaging their predictive analytics to help gauge the increase in demand. If the world’s largest retailers are already preparing for huge spikes, it should only serve as a signal for the rest of the world: online Black Friday shopping this year could set major records.

Next steps before Black Friday 2020 

Online retail store owners are preparing for competition all season long, and as such, every retail brand needs to prepare for a new reality with a greater focus on ecommerce.

This new “seasonal” approach will manifest in a few ways. Some shops will offer multi-day Black Friday deals. Some deals may last the entire season. And with more demand shifting online, everyone needs the digital infrastructure to handle traffic spikes.