Shoppers enter City Market wearing masks

A pair of customers don masks as they enter and exit the City Market, located at 16400 S. Townsend Ave. in Montrose, on Thursday, August 13, 2020.

With positive COVID-19 cases spiking in Colorado, including Montrose, it’s no surprise the holiday season will look different this year.

That includes Black Friday, known as the start of the Christmas shopping season and a chance for consumers to get discounted deals on a variety of sought after items.

Next week, local big box retailers won’t be filled with long lines and crowded stores — for example, Walmart has decided to close Thanksgiving Day, forgoing a tradition of starting deals on the day, opting for a different Black Friday rollout this year.

Though the day has shifted to online shopping in recent years, concerns over the pandemic accelerated the timeline of this season’s Black Friday. Several retailers started rolling out deals earlier this month, with some starting in October.

The pandemic had already shifted the customer experience as people were more inclined to slash spending, according to a consumer pulse survey conducted by McKinsey and Company.

On top of that trend, which began earlier this year at the start of the pandemic, another survey from FinanceBuzz found that 57% of people said they are less likely to shop in person on Black Friday this year. (Despite this, analytic projections say there should be $10 billion in online sales on Black Friday.)

But a variety of deals, available much earlier than usual, have been a focus for retailers navigating the holiday season.

Shift to online holiday shopping

With the pandemic a chief concern among many shoppers, there’s been a dramatic focus to online shopping for retailers, including Walmart and Target, which have opened up a more widespread online selection to choose from, and for a longer period, though in-store options remain.

Target started the discount season in October while Walmart began earlier this month.

The online trend is one that’s seen momentum in recent years as people avoid the monstrous holiday crowds both on Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday. But the timeline is much different.

“That’s why our biggest holiday deals will be available earlier than ever, so you can shop safely and conveniently without worrying about missing out on deals that usually come later in the season,” wrote Target CEO Brian Cornell in a statement earlier this year.

Walmart is offering rollbacks on items across all departments throughout the season, much of which can be found online.

Home Depot started offering discounted deals on Nov. 8, which will last through Dec. 2, giving customers a chance to browse through inventory throughout the month.

The experience will surely change for a number of Colorado counties. On Tuesday, Gov, Jared Polis and the state added a sixth level (purple) to the COVID-19 Dial Dashboard. "Purple" (extreme risk) exceeds the fifth level, "red," and further restricts businesses and retail.

The following counties will move to level red:

Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Clear Creek, Denver, Douglas, Jefferson, La Plata, Logan, Mesa, Morgan, Routt, Summit, Washington.

This takes effect on Friday, and is likely to leak into next week's holiday shopping, forcing a more online approach for consumers in those counties who were planning to head to retailers or purchase from small businesses.

How local retailers have planned this year’s event

Despite a forceful shift to online shopping, there are many who continue the in-person experience, whether for excitement or convenience — Montrose has consistently seen sizable Thursday and Friday crowds.

Walmart, in particular, split the Black Friday sales into three events, rolling out online deals throughout the month of November, with in-store availability a few days after.

The first and second events started earlier this month, but the third event starts on Wednesday, Nov. 25 (online only) at 5 p.m. On Friday, Nov. 27, locals can head for in-store deals at 5 a.m., though it will be much different as the store looks to prioritize safety as the store announced it will allow a 20% capacity.

Additionally, customers will wait in line before entering as employees hand out sanitized shopping carts, with heath ambassadors near the doors to remind customers to wear a mask, the company said. Also, social distancing will be a priority in the store as customers are directed to the right-hand side of the aisles to safely select discounted items.

Other retailers said the Black Friday deals will be available over two months, giving consumers more of a chance to secure some deals if they are concerned about their health and safety. In Montrose, Home Depot, Marshalls, Ross and Target also plan to close on Thanksgiving Day, but have options available online and in-stores beforehand and the day after.

“Let’s face it: Historically, deal hunting and holiday shopping can mean crowded events, and this isn’t a year for crowds,” wrote Cornell.

Target also has contactless services for pickup as an option for those weary of entering the store.

Many of the retailers have announced a number of restrictions and guidelines in place on Black Friday in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 and make it a safe shopping experience. Arriving early, with a mask (as it will be required), should help make the experience swift this year.

How do stores plan to prioritize safety?

As a good portion continue to prioritize safety during the pandemic, stores are following suit and have announced their Black Friday plans. Local retailers (listed above), through press releases, have listed the ways safety will be prioritized next week. This includes capacity limits, shopping avenues, requiring mask wearing and sanitation methods.

Target is implementing new methods it was focused on adapting to navigate the holidays. Customers can head to the store’s website and reserve a spot in line if the store has one on Black Friday, and instead of waiting in a long check-out line, the store has employed its team members with check-out devices, allowing for anyone to complete their purchase anywhere inside the store — this is to avoid long lines at registers. (Target will open at 7 a.m. on Black Friday.)

Montrose, which last Friday moved up on the state’s COVID-19 Dial Dashboard to “concern,” level yellow, has business capacity limits at 50%, but retailers, including Walmart, are keen on keeping Black Friday much more strict.

With consumers shifting tendencies this holiday season, it’s unknown to know what demand will look like in Montrose, but retailers say they will be doing their part to keep the environment safe for customers.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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