‘Everything is different this year’ – retailers, shopping centers gear up for a holiday season unlike any other

It’s been a year that retailers (and all of us) have never seen, a year unlike any other. But one thing is for sure about Black Friday (and the holiday shopping season) is no one knows what’s coming.

“I really don’t know what to expect,” Tom Kuypers, senior vice president of marketing at Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Lower Paxton Township said. “We’re excited about it. It’s a big day for all retailers. We want to keep everyone safe.”

Black Friday is always the Friday after Thanksgiving when retailers typically offer deals and doorbusters and hope for big crowds and long lines waiting for stores to open, but this year is different. In recent years, Black Friday sales have begun on Thanksgiving. But this year, many major retailers have decided to close their doors on the holiday and open their doors early in the morning on Black Friday.

And with the COVID-19 pandemic picking up steam as the number of people infected with the virus grows, retailers are trying to avoid a one day rush. To accomplish that they have been offering deals for weeks now – some of their best deals exclusively have been online – in the hopes of putting a dent into some of the long lines that traditionally pop up as retailers open their doors for Black Friday.

One such retailer known for those lines that wrap around the building is Best Buy, which is doing their part to try and cut down on them this year.

“In order to limit the number of people in stores and avoid lines outside our stores, we are only selling this year’s new, highly anticipated gaming consoles on BestBuy.com,” the retailer said on its website.

And the retailer is not only placing stickers on the floor inside its stores but also outside of its stores as well to help people socially distance.

At Reading-based Boscov’s, the retailer has had Black Friday deals leading up to Black Friday, and president and CEO Jim Boscov said that the company tailored its promotions to avoid clustering people in any one area.

“I want everyone to stay safe,” he said. “I want our co-workers and our customers [to stay safe]. I like doing business but I like being safe even more. And frankly the way we’re doing it you can do both.”

The company said it has intensified cleaning, with its focus on areas such as bathrooms, handrails, door handles, shopping carts and other frequently touch surfaces. Cash register stations are sanitized after each transaction, Boscov said. And he said the company has hired additional seasonal staff.

Boscov’s stores are so large that there is plenty of room for social distancing and there are decals on the floors in the stores to keep people apart. The company has added additional cash registers to avoid long lines, Boscov said.

And the store is allowing shoppers who might not want to shop in person to shop safely. Boscov said customers have been taking advantage of the company’s curbside pickup service, which he said is totally touchless.

“That’s been very well received,” he said. “We’re doing it well and has been much appreciated.”

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Boscov also said that the retailer’s e-commerce business had picked up as well.

At Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, safety is important as well. In fact the retailer has assigned a COVID-19 officer in every store. There are major cleanings twice a day, everything including carts are being wiped down while the company is assuring social distancing at the cash registers, Kuypers said.

The retailer is limiting store capacity to 75 percent and there is someone keeping track of capacity at each store. And in its smaller stores, it has one-way aisles.

“We’re trying to be much more cognizant in terms of crowds,” Kuypers said.

Other retailers also are placing more emphasis on safety as Black Friday and the holiday season approaches. Recently, Walmart resumed its practice of monitoring and counting the number of customers entering its stores to make sure it doesn’t exceed capacity limits, according to CNBC.

Since April, Walmart has been restricting the number of people in its stores to not exceed five customers per every roughly 1,000 square feet, or about 20% of a store’s capacity or other levels of occupancy depending on local mandates, the report said.

Target announced that it will dedicate team members to the front of its stores who will greet and direct guests and be responsible for safety precautions such as cleaning and disinfecting carts and baskets, metering access and providing face masks to customers who need them.

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Kohl’s recently announced that it is implementing additional precautions during Black Friday week. The retailer will place stanchions and social distancing markers at all store entrances to encourage social distancing on days with anticipated higher traffic. It also will have a designated entrance with additional doors available for leaving the store on select days to control traffic flow and encourage social distancing. Greeters will be stationed at the front of the store to distribute sanitized carts, offer free face masks to customers who do not have them and limit occupancy if needed.

All dolled up  Thousands expected for grand opening of world’s only American Girl outlet store  American Girl

American Girl outlet store, at Tanger Outlets Hershey, sneak peek, August 10, 2018. The store grand opening is August 11. Dan Gleiter | [email protected] PENNLIVE.COM PENNLIVE.COMPENNLIVE.COM

At Tanger Outlets Hershey in Derry Township, there are nearly 60 retailers including Disney, Alfred Dunner, American Girl, Banana Republic, Adidas and Champion. There is an effort to keep lines to a minimum, a manager said.

“Tanger this year has been encouraging shoppers to buy earlier,” Veronica Vazquez, assistant general manager at Tanger Outlets Hershey, said. “Hoping to spread out some of the shopping and alleviate some of the long lines.”

Vasquez said that effort is working and people have been coming out as many of the retailers have started sales earlier this year. But it remains a mystery as to what retailers and shopping centers will see this year in terms of turnout on Black Friday and beyond.

“Everything is different this year,” she said. “We’re not sure what to exactly expect.”

Vasquez said there will be more deals in December and the shopping center will be open longer hours.

“[The] hours will extend in December an hour or so to give people more time to shop without the crowds,” she said.

The shopping center has laid down lines outside for social distancing and Vasquez said that stores will be metering and managing their lines if they have them.

The maintenance staff is disinfecting and cleaning regularly at the outlets, Vasquez said.

And for those who want to shop without going into the store, Tanger Outlets offers a virtual shopping program. Customers can sign up at tangeroutlet.com/virtualshopper, noting a time they can talk and the item they are looking for, and then one of the Tanger employees will do a FaceTime call with the customer. The item(s) then can be shipped.

“It’s proving to be a very good program for Tanger,” Vasquez said.

Justin Roth, the marketing director at the Capital City Mall in Lower Allen Township said that as the holiday season approaches, the mall is increasing cleaning and putting back into place some of the extra precautions it took when it reopened following the state’s shutdown in June.

“We have several safety precautions in place for the holiday season including increased sanitization of high traffic, high touch areas,” he said. “The mall’s 50% occupancy restriction will be monitored via traffic counters at all mall entrances. We will be bringing back welcome stations that we used when we reopened back in June where security officers will be handing out complimentary face masks to shoppers without one. We have removed common area seating to reduce any dwell time and to reduce our occupancy.”

Roth said that the mall is ready in case lines form outside of certain stores.

“There are stanchions and social distancing markers placed outside of popular retailers to help with any lines that may form,” he said.

The Capital City Mall has a Mall2Go program for participating retailers so that customers can pick up items contact-free. The mall’s retailers are observing capacity levels and markers are placed throughout the mall to remind shoppers to socially distance.

Boscov's opens after Cumberland County moves into yellow phase

Judy Orndorf, English Center, Pa., and her daughter Eliza Gilliam, of Lewisberry, have their arms full of merchandise while shopping at Boscov’s at the Camp Hill Mall, May 23, 2020. Mark Pynes | [email protected]

What’s for sale?

Boscov said that one major change that the company has made in its store is based on how people are living during the pandemic where your house is now your office, school, day care center and spa.

“Your house has now taken over a whole raft of additional responsibilities,” he said.

And because of that people are shopping differently.

“We see that the shopping patterns have changed a little bit,” Boscov said.

Boscov’s has converted its “Bargain Auditorium” area in each store into Home Essentials HQ, giving customers a consolidated spot where they can find items to keep their house cleaned and sanitized, activities for the kids, comfortable clothing, face masks, gadgets for the kitchen, toilet paper and more.

“All the things you need to live in what your home has come has been aggregated into one area,” he said.

Boscov said that a big focus this year’s holiday season is things for the home — home textiles, kitchenware and appliances but also athletic clothing because people working from home are dressing less casually.

At Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, some of the items that are the focus this holiday shopping season are toys such as a Talking Elmo, electronics, gingerbread houses and other food items. Doorbusters on Black Friday at Ollie’s include a percussion impact massager, wireless headphones and a Star Wars D-0 remote-controlled robot.

The changing face of Carlisle Pike

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet relocated to 5800 Carlisle Pike at the former H. H. Gregg location in September, 2018. The changing face of Carlisle Pike April 3, 2019. Dan Gleiter | [email protected] PENNLIVE.COMPENNLIVE.COM

Retail during a pandemic

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers have been turning to online shopping more and more and retailers we’ll have to see what long-term impact this year will have on the future of in-person shopping.

97th Floor, a digital marketing agency in Utah, recently conducted a study in regards to Black Friday and holiday shopping this year. Sixty-eight percent of consumers plan to do most of their holiday shopping online due to COVID-19, the study said. And many of them – 52% – said they’ll never shop in-person again for the holidays.

The retail business has certainly been different this year.

Ollie’s Bargain Outlet didn’t close its stores earlier this year when other retailers did because it sells essentials such as food, over-the-counter medications, automotive hardware and cleaning supplies.

“We’ve been fortunate to stay open and serve our customers,” Kuypers said, adding that Ollie’s is all about the value it brings to its customers. He said many items are around 70 percent off compared to other stores and that many shoppers have found Ollie’s and stayed with them because of the value it can offer.

“We feel very good about the value we bring to the customers this year,” Kuyers said.

When the state’s shutdown did end, shoppers seemed to have come out in full force.

Retail sales were up 8.5 percent year-over-year on a three-month average of June, July and August compared to last year, and in July sales were actually up 9.6 percent compared to last year, according to the National Retailer Federation.

One retailer where shoppers have turned is Boscov’s, which did have to close during the state’s shutdown.

“Since we’ve reopened we’re doing better than what I’m hearing from other retailers,” Boscov said. “We’ve got very loyal customers and loyal co-workers.”

They’re getting back longtime customers, he said, but that’s not all.

“The other thing we have noticed that we are getting shoppers that haven’t shopped here before,” he said.

You can follow Daniel Urie on twitter @DanielUrie2018 and you can like him on Facebook.

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