Suburban stores prepare for safer, more socially distanced Black Friday
A Black Friday different from any before is anticipated due to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, but retailers are still expecting significant observance of what many consider the traditional second step of the holiday season.
An International Council of Shopping Centers survey of consumers' intentions for Thanksgiving weekend found that 85% intended to shop during the period -- either in person or online -- from the holiday itself through Cyber Monday and to spend $470 on holiday shopping during that period. And among those planning to shop, 44% intend to spend more than last year.
For suburban stores and shopping centers, the focus has been on meeting these expectations safely.
Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont is prepared for any level of turnout on Friday and is asking shoppers to exercise patience with the socially distanced lines that may become necessary outside the center or outside some stories within.
"We've taken every precaution," said Katie Walsh, senior manager of marketing.
That includes requiring every person older than 2 to wear a mask. Compliance hasn't been much of a problem for the Fashion Outlets throughout the pandemic, Walsh said.
"I think 99.9% of people are coming in with the right attitude."
Hygiene protocols at the center include intensified cleaning and sanitizing, the use of electrostatic sprayers, required social distancing and a hospital-grade air filtration system that's been in place since the early days of the pandemic, Walsh said.
There will be traffic counters at the entrances of the center and car counters at the entrance to the parking garage to keep a limit on the number of people inside.
Fashion Outlets will keep its social media pages updated on the current levels of shoppers, Walsh said.
Also, for the first time since the center opened in 2013, Fashion Outlets will not be operating for 24 hours from late on Thanksgiving night. Instead, Black Friday will begin at 6 a.m. Friday.
That change is also planned at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills, among the centers whose stores are trying to lessen the one-day intensity of Black Friday by spreading out deals over a longer period of time than usual.
"There will be specials extended not just through the weekend but for two weeks following Black Friday," said Jenna Velelekos, marketing manager for Hawthorn Mall. "This will lessen the rush to buy, which will keep malls and stores a little less crowded, but it will also give consumers more time to plan their purchases, something that may ultimately be the new way Black Friday is done going forward, COVID or not."
But Velelekos predicts Black Friday will remain a high point of the shopping season in the future, even if current tweaks to special offers remain permanent just because Thanksgiving will always be the traditional start of the holidays.
Best Buy stores began their Black Friday deals last Sunday and continue through this Sunday to help reduce the size of crowds at any one time, according to representatives of the company's corporate headquarters. Stores will be closed on Thanksgiving.
Hygiene and safety protocols at Best Buy stores include occupancy reductions, a mask requirement with the availability of face coverings for those who don't have one, stickers on the floor and outside indicating social distancing guidelines, sanitizing wipes near high-touch displays, and contactless curbside pickup.
Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall is expected to again be a draw for the many stores inside and nearby this holiday season, but Schaumburg Business Association President Lisa Gilbert said the spreading out of Black Friday offers and the resources those stores are putting into online sales will likely diminish the door-busting lines of the past.
Whether these changes become permanent remains to be seen as the concept of a one-day Black Friday worked for retailers for a long time, Gilbert said. And many shoppers have also enjoyed the idea of getting most of their holiday purchases done in one day amid the energy that accompanies the day after Thanksgiving.
"I think time will tell on that," she said. "There is no returning back to normal, but there is always a next normal. ... Woodfield Mall is always going to be a draw for shoppers. It's an institution."
Gilbert added she expects a more active Cyber Monday as well as strong support for smaller, independent stores.
"We'll see a bigger Small Business Saturday because there are so many people supporting local businesses so they'll be here next year," Gilbert said.
Schaumburg Economic Development Director Matt Frank said the village has tried to help stores large and small prepare for a safe holiday season by providing guidance that helps them police themselves and protect shoppers and staffers alike.
This guidance includes a synopsis of the state's Tier 3 mitigations for COVID-19 and an occupancy calculator that lets them know how many people can safely visit at one time, based on the size and type of business.