Holiday shopping begins amid pandemic

Robert Inglis/The Daily Item

The 2020 holiday shopping season will look like no other as consumers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, according to local business owners and experts.

Many large retailers, including Walmart and Kohls, have already announced they will be closed on Thanksgiving and opening early on Black Friday. Some retailers like Walmart and Amazon have already started rolling out deals throughout November.

Holiday shopping will increase even more this year, said Jimmy Chen, an assistant professor of management at Bucknell University.

“The obvious trend is the tendency of people wanting to buy things online,” said Chen. “It’s an even stronger push with COVID now. People are staying at home for their work. We used to see online peaks on weekends, but people are staying home and shopping every day. Online shopping is going up and up.”

The category of what people will buy will be different as well, shifting from clothing or dine-out gift cards in previous years to at-home items, electronics or kitchen gadgets, said Chen.

Holiday shopping begins amid pandemic

Mae Vanemon, left, Cogan Station, and Pat Anderson, Jersey Shore, were out doing some Christmas shopping at the Susquehanna Valley Mall on Thursday afternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed “going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving” as a high-risk activity, and listed “shopping online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday” as a low-risk activity.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) launched a “Shop Safe, Shop Early” campaign to encourage consumers to take advantage of early deals, avoid last-minute shopping crowds and shop online.

In total, consumers plan to spend $997.79 on gifts, holiday items such as decorations and food, and additional “non-gift” purchases for themselves and their families, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

U.S. online holiday sales are expected to shatter previous records. Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, predicts a total of $189 billion in online holiday sales, a 33 percent increase compared to last year. That’s equal to two years worth of holiday e-commerce sales growth shoved into one season.

According to Salesforce.com, nearly one-third of all 2020 holiday shopping will occur online.

While overall spending in these categories is down by about $50 from last year, nearly all ($45) of the decrease comes from consumers’ hesitation to use seasonal sales and promotions to buy other, non-gift purchases for themselves and their families, according to NRF.

Even still, consumer spending on gifts is on par with last year, decreasing by only about $8, while per-person spending on other holiday items like decorations is up slightly. Expected spending remains significantly higher than the 5-year average for both those categories. The holiday season is top of mind, with 42 percent saying they plan to start their holiday shopping by the end of October and another 41 percent in November, according to NRF.

Chen said the information he has seen shows an expected increase in holiday shopping, but it’s hard to predict without knowing where state restrictions will go. People may also be jobless or use their savings to purchase gifts.

Holiday shopping begins amid pandemic

Robert Inglis/the Daily Item Dennis Coffinberger, Danville, likes to shop at Beiters in Danville for items he can't find anywhere else locally.

“Everything is so unpredictable these days,” said Chen. “There is pent up demand, people have been locked up for so long, they may want to do crazy shopping and use the holiday season to buy more stuff.”

Consumers want to shop at the places where they feel safe and the employees are taken care of, said Chen.

“Thus, retailers should strive to enforce pandemic protocols and protect their employees," he said. "Without employee satisfaction, there hardly can be any customer satisfaction.”

According to Chen, innovations that normally would take years are being implemented within just a few months.

“Digital engagement and direct-to-consumer are just another two practices trending in the industry,” he said. “The retail industry once again shows its resilience and agility in the face of unprecedented challenges. Shopping is life. Many people are looking forward to this holiday season where the boundary between offline shopping (Black Friday) and online shopping (Cyber Monday) is even more blurry this year. Perhaps the pent-up demand and revenge-shopping mentality will significantly boost this holiday sales revenue.”

Local hours extended

Tom Beiter, the owner of Beiter’s Department Store at 491 Mill St., Danville, said the store is never open early on Black Friday weekend, but hours will be extended until Christmas. Instead of 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the store will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

“For us, with our broad base of merchandise, it will be a typical or better-than-normal holiday shopping season,” said Beiter. “Since we went green and reopened, we’re finding that people are sticking closer to home. We have been OK since we reopened. I attribute that to people avoiding destination shopping like malls.”

Holiday shopping begins amid pandemic

A selection of Christmas books available for sale at Beiters in Danville.

Beiter’s will have sales in line with previous years, but “nothing out of the box, unusual or extraordinary,” he said. “In terms of sales and bargains, I anticipate this year to be the same as other years.”

Cindy Krebs, who opened Leslie’s Closet at 325 Market St., Lewisburg, in July, after 35 years in teaching, said people are hesitant to come out and shop, but she expects it to get better in the new year.

“I stopped purchasing clothing on Oct. 31,” she said. “I am dedicated to selling the merchandise I have in stock. I am nervous, but I think people in this area are supportive of local hometown shopping.”

Krebs said she extended her hours of operation in November during the week to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will add an extra hour of shopping on Saturdays for December at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Our prices are already low since we’re a second-hand store,” she said. “If I have an overstock in December, I may offer a 10 to 15 percent discount.”

Shop early

The Associated Press reported that retailers and carriers are preparing for an online holiday shopping surge that could tax shipping networks and lead to delivery delays. Retailers and carriers are hiring and expanding in order to avoid delays and experts are encouraging shoppers to start early.

Satish Jindel, the president of ShipMatrix, which analyzes shipping package data, predicts 7 million packages a day could face delays from Thanksgiving to Christmas. That’s because he’s expecting a total shipping capacity for the industry to be 79.1 million parcels a day during the 34-day period, with 86.3 million packages looking for space. Last year, total capacity was 65.3 million packages with demand at 67.9 million packages a day.

But even with the online surge, overall holiday sales are expected to see only modest gains compared to recent years. Consulting firm Deloitte expects total sales, including online, to rise between 1 percent and 1.5 percent during the November through January period. That’s compared with a 4.1 percent increase last year for the November and December period, according to an analysis by the National Retail Federation. The trade group says it won’t be coming out with a forecast until this month given so much uncertainty.

Lee Spratt is the Americas CEO for DHL eCommerce Solutions, a division that specializes in processing small packages for mid- to large-size shippers. He predicts online shopping to be up to 50 percent higher this holiday season compared to the year-ago period. The division has already been grappling with a 40 percent surge in online orders since the pandemic began.

Rachel Cruze, of Ramsey Solutions, who offers tips to help people avoid debt, save money and budget, said, "Three in four people said that buying something impulsively during the pandemic has positively affected their mood."

"The people in your life don’t need more presents — what they truly want is your presence," she said. "If you want to feel at peace this holiday season, make a plan for your money before you spend it. A budget gives you permission to spend on the people you love without putting yourself in a bad place financially. That way, when January rolls around, you’ll have meaningful memories without the guilt."

Unsure what to expect

Susquehanna Valley Mall Marketing Manager Sharon Leonard said she isn’t sure what to expect this holiday season. Due to the guidelines, the holiday parade and entertainment will not be permitted, and she said the capacity restrictions could change before the end of the month.

“I think we’ll have people shopping,” said Leonard. “Maybe it won’t be as busy as previous shopping seasons. We anticipate that people will still want to be out, and want to still feel like it’s the holiday. The mall will be decorated, and the mall will have music.”

The mall will open at 7 a.m. Black Friday and close at 8 p.m. The mall will be closed on Thanksgiving, she said.

The mall will maintain all COVID-19 guidelines that are already in place: masks, social distancing and capacity restrictions. Leonard said it’s been discussed to have a controlled capacity with someone standing at entrances to let people in and out, but that’s not in place at this time.

Derrick Backer, the executive director of Sunbury Revitalization Inc. (SRI), predicts that Sunbury and the surrounding areas will not see a drop in holiday shoppers.

“I don’t think people will go on major shopping days as in years past,” he said. “I see a more spread out effort and not just the day before or last-minute shopping. It will be more strategic for shoppers.”

The recommendations in place from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NRF about doing more online shopping this year is only good for large retailers, said Backer.

“When you’re talking small town, mom and pop stores, it’s not feasible to have a robust online effort for some of the businesses,” he said. “It takes a lot of money to run those websites as efficiently as they want, some platforms take a percentage of it and every dollar counts right now for those small businesses. They won’t be able to do it (online shopping) on the type of scale that large retailers can. It’s not feasible or realistic.”

SRI is hosting a Late Night Shoppers event on Dec. 3. If a business wishes to be included in the advertising for this event, they must complete an application by Nov. 13.

Peggy Snyder, of Avis, and Belinda Moyer, of Oval, traveled to Danville for shopping recently. They normally start holiday shopping early and wrap it all up by Thanksgiving.

“(Beiters) has such a variety,” said Moyer. “You find things. You come not looking for anything and you browse and find all kinds of stuff.”

Small businesses will go out of business if they’re not patronized by shoppers, they said.

Pat Anderson, of Jersey Shore, went to the mall to shop at Boscov’s. She will be shopping for her grandchildren and nieces and nephews this year.

“I’m done (shopping) before Black Friday. I don’t do Black Friday,” said Anderson. “The crowds do not do well for me."

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