Holiday shopping will be different during the pandemic, but Santa is coming

This year’s Black Friday in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic will be unlike any others due to new challenges, and yet, Hawaii’s malls have put up their holiday decorations, signaling their hope for a boost in sales this season.

Many Black Friday sales have been happening since as early as October, according to Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. And while retailers are hoping shoppers will pull out their wallets and shop, providing a much-needed boost to a difficult year, they do not, and cannot, have crowds in their stores.

“Not a lot of stores are doing doorbusters,” said Yamaki. “They’re not opening early at midnight on Thanksgiving. A lot of Black Friday sales are already ongoing. … You’re not going to have everyone rush in on Friday.”

>> PHOTOS: Holiday shopping in Hawaii will be different during the pandemic

Many Black Friday sales started sooner and will last longer this holiday season, according to Yamaki. There also will be more online and pickup services, and more shopping centers and stores offering delivery services.

Under Oahu’s current rules, retailers are only allowed to welcome shoppers inside their stores at 50% capacity. The state Health Department also recommends shopping online the day after Thanksgiving rather than in person this year.

Oahu’s malls, however, say safety protocols are in place, and many are extending their hours on Black Friday while offering promotions.

And most mall Santas are back, available to pose for photos with families — but behind plexiglass windows — while adhering to distancing and face mask rules.

Santa made his debut at Windward Mall’s Center Court last Saturday, and more Santas will appear at Kahala Mall and Pearlridge Center on Friday. At Ala Moana Center, both a real Santa and a virtual Santa are available.

All of the holiday decor is out, with garlands, wreaths and trees, including the annual Poinsettia tree at Kahala Mall, while a synchronized light and music show linked to a 25-foot Christmas tree is scheduled every evening at Windward Mall. Earlier this month, Ala Moana Center’s newly refurbished “Big Santa” made his appearance atop the makai parking deck — wearing a mask.

Ala Moana is encouraging safe shopping with “Spot Holder,” a line-queuing and shopping reservation program, along with “Store to Door,” a same-day package delivery service, and curbside pickup for some retailers.

Pearlridge Center is still preparing for a rush on Black Friday, according to spokeswoman Diana Su, based on past experiences with reopenings following the two pandemic-related closures this year.

“We have been working hand in hand with a lot of our anchor stores making sure that we can safely route these long lines so they can adhere to the 50% capacity guidelines,” she said. “We typically have customers line up outdoors so it’s safer for them.”

There also will be a live Santa Claus at Pearlridge Center this year, starting Friday, behind plexiglass, with photos taken by Expressions Portrait Design by appointment only to mitigate crowding.

Santa sits on a raised platform behind the plexiglass, Su said. Families and children — who must wear masks — can pose in front of the plexiglass. Due to the camera’s angle, the plexiglass will not be visible in the photos, and it should appear as if the family is sitting right next to Santa.

All photos will be sold digitally this year, she said, but customized prints also can be ordered and arranged for curbside pickup later from Expressions.

There will, however, be no Pearlridge Express holiday train this year.

“It was a very difficult decision for us to make, but we decided it was best for the safety of our customers and their children to just postpone it this year because of COVID,” said Su. “Instead we utilized the space to maximize Santa’s Pen.”

This year’s Black Friday will be a large shift for Tanna Dang, owner of the Eden in Love boutique at South Shore Marketplace.

She had initially booked 30,000 square feet of empty space at Ward Centre to hold Eden’s annual pop-up Black Friday sale — the biggest day of the year, which can generate up to three months’ worth of revenue.

But by August, when coronavirus cases spiked, Dang realized she would have to do Black Friday differently this year — and decided to cancel the pop-up sale in September. It was a hard decision, she said, and the first time in 14 years.

Instead, Eden in Love launched an online promotion, offering three Black Friday sales earlier this month. Shoppers who purchased a special discount code were able to shop online at half price. On the first Friday, the promotion generated more than 1,000 orders after midnight.

“All our big Black Friday sales are going to be online, period,” said Dang, saying it was a conscientious choice to protect public health.

Jams World also has shifted much of its sales online, according to retail and marketing director Lei Rowan, due to uncertainty over whether in-person stores could remain open. Currently, shops are open at Ala Moana Center, Waikiki and Mauna Lani, with the latter two having just reopened recently.

Online sales are on track to be much better than last year, she said, but it remains unknown how well in-store sales will do this year.

The fabric print masks, which Jams thought would be a temporary item when launched earlier this year, are now the top-selling item, in addition to extenders, which hold the elastic back from one’s ears.

Aloha apparel retailer Reyn Spooner is offering in-store promotions, as well as scratch cards to customers offering discounts and prizes, including a $1,000 shopping spree, to draw in local shoppers. Reyn’s Christmas shirts have been doing well online, and the company is hoping they will do well in stores as well.

“I think all retailers are hoping for increased traffic and comparable sales in an environment that is safe for employees and customers,” said Jason Zambuto, vice president of retail and wholesale in a statement. “We are prepared for increased traffic and to service customers in a safe manner. We have many new items ideal for gifting this holiday season.”

Black Friday is usually followed by Small Business Saturday — and this year will be really crucial for many smaller Hawaii retailers, according to Yamaki.

“We’re still seeing folks closing their doors,” she said. “We’ve seen some trying desperately to hold on through this holiday season to see whether they can survive.”

The National Retail Federation has forecast holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019 to a total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. Over the past five years, the average holiday sales increase has been at 3.5%.

NRF’s latest research also shows 42% of consumers started their holiday shopping earlier than usual this year.

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said in a news release that he believes consumers “will likely spend more than anyone would have expected just a few months ago.”

“After all they’ve been through, we think there’s going to be a psychological factor that they owe it to themselves and their families to have a better-than-­normal holiday,” he said. “There are risks to the economy if the virus continues to spread, but as long as consumers remain confident and upbeat, they will spend for the holiday season.”


>> Ala Moana Center, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

>> Pearlridge Center, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

>> Windward Mall, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

>> Kahala Mall, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

* Individual stores may open earlier

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