Samantha Duncan got her first bit of Christmas shopping done on Thursday afternoon, visiting the Denver Premium Outlets shopping center in Thornton to pick out some clothes for her husband.
The 38-year-old Westminster resident said she specifically went to the open-air mall around midday to avoid weekend or evening crowds. A steep increase in new COVID-19 infections has led to a 25% cap on customer capacity at stores in Adams County and many other places across the state, and she was looking to minimize her risk.
Already a pretty active online shopper, Duncan said during a 2020 holiday season that promises to be unlike any other because of the virus, she plans to focus on rounding up gifts via mouse clicks even more so than in years past.
“I’m definitely am not doing any Black Friday things,” she said.
Duncan’s not alone there. In a Sept. 16 survey of 1,000 U.S. adults, personal finance site FinanceBuzz found that 57% of people were less likely to shop in person on Black Friday this year than in year’s past. In the Denver-metro area and other parts of the state reeling from the latest wave of the pandemic, there is a chance that in-person shopping may be completely shut down by public health orders on Black Friday, making the classic “doorbuster” deal sales promotions, already fading in popularity. essentially a moot point.
“I think COVID was the catalyst for Black Friday either slowing down or going away,” said Ali Besharat, a marketing professor at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business and co-director of the school’s Consumer Insights and Business Innovation Center.
“Given the operational restrictions that are mandated by the local authorities, obviously the norms have changed and so have the customers’ behaviors,” Besharat said. “For that reason, I expect to see a drastic change with respect to how many people are going to shop in the malls or big-box retail stores.”
Consulting giant Deloitte also commissioned a survey of American shoppers about their holiday plans, reaching more than 4,000 of them between Sept. 9-15. Breaking results down by region, Deloitte found that shoppers in Colorado and 12 other Western states expected to spend 65% of their holiday budget online this year on average.
One statistic from the Deloitte survey that is sure to have some retailers reaching for the Tums: More than half of western state shoppers said they will be scaling back their holiday spending in 2020 because of economic concerns. The average household budget in the west, including for food and entertainment, is $1,280 this year. That’s 7.7% lower than the national average of $1,387.
Duncan is expecting to be part of only small celebrations this holiday season. She and her husband plan to eat Thanksgiving dinner with one other family, COVID-19 conditions permitting, and they are going to celebrate Christmas just the two of them plus their dog. Her gift-buying budget hasn’t been affected by the pandemic.
“I’m pretty fortunate because my husband and I are both still working at full capacity, and I’ve saved a lot of money from not vacationing this year,” she said.
Aside from avoiding crowds, one of Duncan’s goals this year is to support local retailers, especially those that already had to close down in the spring because of the virus. The problem with that, she says, is they don’t advertise near as much as big-box competitors and many offer an uneven online experience. Their sales platforms are not as push-button easy and don’t feel as secure as those of national brands.
“I have ordered online from local stores but they’re not all equipped for that,” she said.
New Denver resident Sarah Corie, 25, hopes to support a lot of local small businesses this year, too. The problem is she hasn’t been able to get acquainted with many yet since moving to the city from Louisiana last month. She’s hoping Google will help her with that.
“I generally do most of my holiday shopping online just to take advantage of all the sales and discounts. Obviously, you have a bigger option pool online,” Corie said. “I know, though, that small businesses need a lot more attention than they ever have.”
Corie has experience on both sides of the sales counter. She runs a boutique in Louisiana remotely.
Her budget will be tighter this year, she said, because of all of the uncertainty around the virus. Normally, she spends $50 to $100 on each person on her list. This year she expects to keep that down in the $20 to $30 range. Overall, that could bring her spending down from $600 or more to $300 to $400 when it comes to gifts. The list itself will also be shorter.
“Traditionally, I would just buy for everybody,” said Corie, who calls holiday gift giving her favorite part of the year. “But my goal is just to focus on the people closest to me this year.”
DU’s Besharat may believe the era of Black Friday as a one-day, in-person shopping bonanza is over, but that hardly means promotions and big-time discounts are a thing of the past. He highlighted Walmart’s efforts to entice shoppers this year.
The retail giant split its seasonal bargains into three events and spread them out over the entire month of November in its “Black Friday deals for days” promotion. It kicked off with online deals on Nov. 4 followed by in-store deals on Nov. 7. A second round of bargains started online Wednesday and runs through Saturday. Finally, more online deals with drop online on Nov. 25 with special in-store deals available starting at 5 a.m. on Black Friday itself, Nov. 27. Most stores are offering contactless curbside pickup.
“It kind of split the crowd into three buckets and also it creates a feeling of understanding and compassion that it’s not all about making people jump on an opportunity where they all have to show up certain days,” Besharat said.
Of course, online sales are an increasingly big part of the pie for retailers, all year long and on Black Friday. Adobe Analytics projects U.S. consumers like Duncan and Corie will combine to spend $189 billion online this year, shattering previous holiday season records. Black Friday alone is expected to see $10 billion in online sales, a 39% increase over 2019, by Adobe’s projections.
They can’t offer the discounts of big-box competition but Besharat has been impressed by some of the things he has seen independent retailers around the country do to address the pandemic and still try to meet shoppers’ needs. He has seen small boutiques allowing people to book private shopping appointments and even offering digital walk-throughs where a personal shopping assistant will do a video call with customers warry of visiting businesses in person but still interested in browsing the merchandise.
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Creating new ways to serve customers has been a key to Denver gift shop Made in Colorado‘s success this year, according to Steven Mendoza, who helps run the store and its attached sister business Roberta’s Chocolates with his family including his mom, Roberta Poirier, who owns the two stores.
After almost 20 years of being located off of West 29th Avenue, the side-by-side shops moved to a more prominent space at 4022 Tennyson St. in Denver in July. It was a stressful time to move, especially after being shut down to in-store shopping in the spring, but it helped that the businesses were coming off their biggest Easter and Mother’s Day sales days ever. Mendoza attributed that to the businesses introducing a new gift basket option, allowing customers to add Roberta’s homemade fudge, truffles and other treats with selections from Made in Colorado’s wide variety of artisan gifts in one package. It’s an option Mendoza and family plan to embrace for the critical holiday season as well.
“This gets us through the year,” he said. “If we don’t have a good Christmas, we’re hurting.”
Having a loyal customer base built over decades helped the stores weather the first shutdown. Mendoza is confident the businesses can meet customers’ needs through the online ordering available through its website, madeincolorado.com.
Echoing a refrain for many local businesses this year, Mendoza urges people to get their holiday orders in as early as possible for delivery. Especially when it comes to Roberta’s handmade goods, the business needs at least two weeks’ notice to make sure it can get orders to customers on time, he said.
“We really don’t want it to be shut down,” Mendoza said of what the future holds. “But we’ll make sure we’ll get our customers taken care of.”
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