Virus keeps Black Friday crowds thin, shoppers shift online

Virus_Oubreak_Black_Friday_89444 Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla. Attendance at the mall was down in an attempt to avoid spreading the corona virus.
Virus_Oubreak_Black_Friday_59967 Shoppers wear protective face masks as they walk past a social distancing sign at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla. Attendance at the mall was down in an attempt to avoid spreading the corona virus.
Virus_Oubreak_Black_Friday_11522 Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla. Attendance at the mall was down in an attempt to avoid spreading the corona virus.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_66954 Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter an shore that opened at 6am at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_86169 Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter an shore that opened at 6am at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Oubreak_Black_Friday_00103 Shoppers wear protective face masks as they look for Black Friday deals at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla. Attendance at the mall was down in an attempt to avoid spreading the corona virus.
Virus_Oubreak_Black_Friday_47606 Shoppers wear protective face masks as they walk past a Christmas setting at the Ellenton Premium Outlet stores Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ellenton, Fla. Attendance at the mall was down in an attempt to avoid spreading the corona virus.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_35266 Black Friday shoppers wear face masks as the leave Saks Fifth Avenue flagships store empty handed, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_71901 An Apple Store associate, right, wears a face mask as she helps a Black Friday shopper outside their store along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_64704 A Black Friday shopper adjusts his face mask as he leaves the Abercrombie & Fitch store along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_64347 Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter the Nike store along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_33575 A couple of jewelers stock their windows before opening for Black Friday shoppers along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_17521 Black Friday shoppers wear face masks and gloves as the leave the Uniqlo store along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_New_York_33365 A Black Friday shopper uses her smart phone to film herself shopping for handbags at a Furla store along Fifth Avenue, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Ohio_10443 Home Depot opened at 6 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ashtabula Township, Ohio, and only a few people waited outside to get into the store. Black Friday lines were smaller this year as retailers spread savings over a longer period of time.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Ohio_05323 Shoppers leave Walmart around 5:30 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ashtabula Township, Ohio. John Kirk, pushing cart, and Diane Simms, second from right, decided to try the Black Friday experience but many shoppers sat out the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Ohio_80691 A Black Friday shopper negotiates the Walmart parking lot early Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ashtabula Township, Ohio.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Ohio_32391 Black Friday early shoppers wait in line to get into Ashtabula Towne Square just before 6 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Ashtabula Township, Ohio.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Illinois_41368 A line of socially distanced shoppers wait to get into Bath & Body Works during Black Friday outdoor shopping at Deer Park Town Center Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Deer Park, Ill.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Illinois_26812 A group of girls take advantage of Friday's mild northern Illinois temperatures to Black Friday shop at Deer Park Town Center Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Deer Park, Ill.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Illinois_05077 Andrew Czarnik, 17, and his sister Katherine Czarnik, 18, both of Deer Park, Ill., were happy to get good Black Friday deals at American Eagle Outfitters while shopping outdoors at Deer Park Town Center Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Deer Park, Ill.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Illinois_37008 A socially distanced line of customers wait to shop at Bath & Body Works during Black Friday shopping outdoors at Deer Park Town Center Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Deer Park, Ill.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Illinois_09394 Customers wait to get into the Apple store for appointments during Black Friday shopping outdoors at Deer Park Town Center Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in Deer Park, Ill.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Massachusetts_22862 A shopper peruses an aisle of fishing rods and accessories during Black Friday at Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, Mass. Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. The outdoor specialty store opened their doors at 5 a.m.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Massachusetts_58261 Tracy Ford and her sister Gwen Ford, at left, look over a display of Red Ryder Carbine Action BB guns during Black Friday sale at the Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, Mass., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. The outdoor specialty store opened their doors at 5 a.m.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Massachusetts_53537 A shopper persuses fishing rods during Black Friday sale at Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, Mass., Friday, Nov. 27, 20202. The outdoor specialty store opened their doors at 5 a.m.
Virus_Outbreak_23318 A shopper walks by a store, Monday, Nov. 18, 2020 in Pembroke Pines, Fla. After months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy, Black Friday is offering a small beacon of hope. In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of shoppers eager to get started on their holiday spending. But these are not normal times.
Virus_Outbreak_03776 A lone shopper walks past the Christmas tree set up in an outlet mall Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, in Lakewood, Colo. After months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy, Black Friday is offering a small beacon of hope. In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of shoppers eager to get started on their holiday spending. But these are not normal times.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Massachusetts_31270 Shoppers get in on the Black Friday sales while shopping at Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, Mass. Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. The outdoor specialty store opened their doors at 5 a.m.
Virus_Outbreak_97219 A social-distancing sign reminds shoppers to stay apart as a Christmas trees display stands at the end of walkway in a Macy's department store Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, in northeast Denver. After months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy, Black Friday is offering a small beacon of hope. In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of shoppers eager to get started on their holiday spending. But these are not normal times.
APTOPIX_Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_Massachusetts_64018 A shopper makes his way past the large puddle of water, to join the socially distanced line of people waiting to get into Best Buy on Black Friday in Dartmouth, Mass. on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_49766 Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter an shore that opened at 6am at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_49097 Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter an shore that opened at 6am at the Citadel Outlets in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_California_22715 A "Black Friday Deals" sign is displayed as a few shoppers are seen at a store at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_55683 Black Friday shoppers wearing face masks wait in line to enter a store at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_17624 Black Friday shoppers wearing face masks wait in line to enter a store at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_84995 A Black Friday shopper wearing a face mask shops at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_48704 Black Friday shopper Alex Gamboa, right, 58, of Los Angeles, holds merchandises as his wife, who did not give her name, checks the bargains at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_96529 A Black Friday shopper wearing a face mask shops at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_85948 A Black Friday shopper wearing a face mask rests at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_10250 A Black Friday shopper wearing a face mask carries bags at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_09449 A few Black Friday shoppers wait in line to enter a Target store that opened at 7am in Commerce, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_07028 Black Friday shoppers wearing face masks wait in line to enter a store at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.
Virus_Outbreak_Black_Friday_97570 A shopper walks through Macy's flagship store at Herald Square an hour after its 6a.m. Black Friday opening, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, in New York.
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NEW YORK (AP) — The raging coronavirus pandemic kept crowds thin at malls and stores across the country on Black Friday, but a surge in online shopping offered a beacon of hope for struggling retailers after months of slumping sales and businesses toppling into bankruptcy.

In normal times, Black Friday is the busiest shopping day of the year, drawing millions of people eager to get started on their holiday spending.

But these are not normal times: A spike in coronavirus cases is threatening the economy’s fitful recovery from the sudden plunge in the spring. Crowds at stores were dramatically diminished as shoppers shifted online.

Game consoles, cookware, robotic vacuum cleaners, slippers and pajamas were popular among shoppers preparing to spend a lot of time indoors this winter. Many were still eager to get into the holiday spirit and delight their loved ones after a tough year.

Eric Kelly, a boxing gym owner, camped outside a store on Black Friday for the first time in his life, trying to score a PlayStation 5 for his 13-year-old twin sons as a reward for persevering through remote learning during the pandemic.

“They’ve been away from their friends,” said Kelly, who failed to get the console at a GameStop in New York City’s Union Square but said he would keep trying online. “They’ve done everything they had to do in school and outside of school, so I have to award them for being exceptional kids.”

Before Black Friday, GameStop teased that it would have a limited supply of the new $500 PlayStation 5 game console for sale only at its stores, in contrast to other retailers that sold it only online.

Kelly said “people were on top of each other” in the line. At a Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, New Jersey, police monitored a crowd outside a GameStop, but few people kept their distance.

GameStop said it was taking several safety precautions, including contactless pickup.

Many retailers beefed up their safety protocols to reassure wary customers about coming in on Black Friday. But stores also catered to those shopping digitally by moving their doorbuster deals online and ramping up curbside pickup options.

“We have been intentional to try to not create the frenzy, the doorbusters, the long lines and the crowds you typically see on a Black Friday, ” said Stephen Lebovitz, CEO of CBL, which operates about 100 malls and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

Several hundred shoppers lined up ahead of opening at Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, which normally attracts several thousand on Black Friday. The mall spread out the Black Friday deals over eight days, and many retail tenants pivoted more to online and curbside pickup, said Jill Renslow, Mall of America’s senior vice president of business development.

“It feels good, and it’s the right thing to do to keep everybody safe,” Renslow said “Everyone is shopping a little differently but that’s OK.”

Only a trickle of shoppers showed up at Macy’s Herald Square in New York an hour after it opened, offering 50% off handbags and 60% off women’s and men’s coats. Workers sanitized door knobs and windows.

A Christmas tree towered over the largely empty streets around The Domain, the most popular outdoor mall in Austin, Texas. Store employees counted masked shoppers trickling in to stay within the state’s 75% capacity limit.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has labeled shopping in crowded stores during the holidays a “higher risk” activity and says people should limit any in-person shopping.

The National Retail Federation, the nation’s largest retail trade group, predicted that shoppers will be looking for reasons to celebrate. The trade group expects sales for the November and December period to increase between 3.6% and 5.2% over 2019, compared with a 4% increase the year before. Holiday sales have averaged gains of 3.5% over the past five years.

“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,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Thanksgiving Day hit a new record online as spending reached $5.1 billion, up 21.5% compared to a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers. Among the most popular items were Lego sets, Barbie toys, and kid scooters, HP laptops, and Apple Watches, according to Adobe. The popularity of Netflix’s “Queen’s Gambit” has boosted sales for chess-related items.

Walmart, which spread out its Black Friday deals over several weekends, said its most popular deals included this year’s new gaming consoles, wireless headphones, home appliances like the Edufy Robotic Vacuum.

Black Friday is projected to generate $10 billion in online sales, a 39% bump from the year ago period, according to Adobe. And Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, will remain the biggest online shopping day of the year with $12.7 billion in sales, a 35% jump.

Big box stores like Walmart and Target, which were allowed to stay open during the spring lockdowns, have enjoyed further gains from ramping up their online services, analysts say.

But stores deemed non-essential that were forced to close have struggled to recover. More than 40 chains, including J.C. Penney and J.Crew, filed for bankruptcy.

“Is there going to be a surge in apparel gifting, footwear gifting to help out any of the specialty retailers and do they have the digital presence to actually capture the attention of the consumers?” said Sonia Lapinsky, managing director in AlixPartners’ retail practice. “That remains to be seen, and I think it will be more on the grim side.”

There are also fewer deals to be had this year. Non-essential retailers were forced to halt production at the onset of the pandemic, leading to lower inventory. As a result, holiday promotions are tracking below last year’s levels for clothing, consumer electronics, power and hand tools and home goods, according to Numerator, a market research firm.

Erika Mendez usually heads to the mall every Black Friday to shop at clothing brands Zara, H&M or Forever 21. But this year, the New Jersey journalist student ended up shopping on Amazon, scoring a Nike track suit for 25% off, as well as Nike sneakers that were 20% off.

“It’s just easier ordering online than going out,” says Mendez.

And Black Friday was the last thing on the minds of some hurt the most by the pandemic. At a popular shopping area in St. Petersburg, Florida, several storefronts were empty, and the only line was at a plasma donation center.

Leonard Chester, 58, said he hoped to get at least $55 for the donation, saying that he needed to eat. When reminded that it was Black Friday, he let out a laugh and pointed to the line around him.

“This says that people are hurting. The economy’s bad,” said Chester, who was laid off from his job as a bouncer at a strip club two months ago.

___

AP Staff Writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida, Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, and Desiree Mathurin in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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