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Shoppers skip the stores on Black Friday, opt for safer online sales

For 25 years, mother and daughter duo Margaret Jones and Crissy Waggoner of Waterford have braved blizzards, broken legs and big crowds to hit the stores in the early hours of Black Friday, dressed in their matching homemade green sweatshirts with “Annual Day after Thanksgiving shoppers” in red and white letters.

In previous years, nothing could stop the pair from lining up in the dark outside their favorite stores and filling their shopping carts when the doors opened. But this year, the virus did just that as the number of positive cases climbed throughout the state and region. 

“I'm so sad that my mom and I's Black Friday tradition did not happen this year,” Waggoner said Friday, as she stayed home, safely away from potential crowds of sale seeking shoppers. The daughter in the duo said she is immunocompromised and knows that means she needs to stay home and stay safe, even if that means cancelling their tradition for the first time. 

“We hit the stores 3 a.m., 4 a.m., rain, snow, me with a broken leg...didn't matter, we weathered it all,” said Waggoner. “This year, we can't take the chance. I'm so sad about it, but I know it's what needs to be done.” 

Lines were short and aisles were unusually empty at some of the region's biggest stores on Black Friday as shoppers, like Waggoner and Jones, opted to find their deals online rather than on the shelves. 

At Target in Waterford and Walmart in Groton on Friday morning and evening, most folks were leaving with shopping bags full of everyday items, such as cleaning supplies and groceries, instead of pushing carts piled high with the typical Black Friday haul of flat screen TVs and video game consoles. 

Cheryl Harris of Niantic, who said she is at high-risk because of her age, said she would be avoiding in-person shopping this year to limit direct contact with other shoppers and store workers. Instead, she said, she’d be ordering gift cards online to send directly to her kids. 

Elizabeth DeWolf of Waterford said she was opting to do all her shopping online or at small local businesses this year. 

Another Waterford resident, Karin Voelker, said she was also avoiding the stores to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

 “Never needed anything that bad,” she said. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on its website listed shopping in store on the day before or after Thanksgiving as a “higher risk” activity that should be avoided. The CDC recommended people do their shopping online the week of the holiday, if possible. 

Many stores pivoted their usual Black Friday sales, which typically include early openings, extended hours and long lines, to make shopping safer this year. 

Kohl’s and Best Buy offered curbside pickup for online orders. Walmart announced this fall it was “reinventing” the Black Friday experience, offering “Black Friday Deals for Days” in an attempt to spread out shopping for sales, including the most popular brands this year, LEGO, Roku and Instant Pot. 

“Customers trust Walmart to deliver an amazing Black Friday year after year. Although this year’s event looks different, our commitment to what our customers depend on us for — the absolute best prices of the season on hot gifts from top brands — hasn’t changed,” said Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S.

To keep shoppers safe, the stores were providing longer lasting deals, offering all their Black Friday sales online and giving customers the option of fast deliveries and curbside pickups for their orders. 

Target stores were also redesigning Black Friday sales.

“Our completely new approach to Black Friday is giving guests flexibility to safely get the best holiday deals on their own terms,” said Christina Hennington, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Target. “Guests are taking advantage of our safe, contactless options — including shopping in stores or online using our same-day services.

Target began “Black Friday Now” sales on Nov. 23 and was running them through Nov. 28. The store said the most popular items were smart TVs, Apple products and coffee makers, and that all were available with same-day services like drive-up pick-ups, in-store order pickups and same-day shipping. Target same-day delivery and pick up services had grown 217% from last year, the store reported. 

Target recently reported online sales had gone up by 155%. Last week, Walmart reported that e-commerce sales had increased 79%. Amazon’s profits were up nearly 200% in the most recent quarter, Forbes reported. 

For Kim Pavloski of Waterford, Black Friday shopping wasn’t an option this year due to the lingering effects of COVID-19. The 55-year-old tested positive for the virus on Oct. 28 and said that since she contracted the virus, she’s had little to no energy to even leave the house. 

“Based on the CDC guidelines, I don't need to quarantine anymore, so if I have to run a quick errand and I am up to it I’ll go, but my endurance doesn't permit me to get much done, and it's at a much slower pace,” she said. “I feel like a little old lady.” 

Even shopping online is too much for her some days. 

“I just don't have the energy or motivation right now to leave the house or even the energy or full concentration to surf the web for deals,” she said. “[Covid-19] just knocks the energy out of you.” 

Nancy Butler of Waterford said that her traditions and shopping habits changed this year due to the pandemic, as did her priorities. 

“Black Friday is very different for me this year,” she said. “I am less concerned about getting the best deal and more concerned about remaining healthy and not making anyone else ill right now.” 

She said that because she didn’t want to be in stores at times that may have more foot traffic, she stayed home Friday. In fact, she already finished her shopping before the holiday rush, wrapped all her family gifts and shipped them before the post office got too crowded, too. 

“I will not allow COVID or anything else to keep us from having the best holiday possible. I just do it differently,” she said. “It feels good to know that everything is done, and I did it safely.”

t.hartz@theday.com

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