- Real Estate
- Food & Drink
Nov. 23, 2020
This might be the only holiday season in history when retailers don’t want doorbusters.
The rare offers designed to draw crowds of people over Thanksgiving weekend have taken on a 2020 twist.
Instead of one day or even a few hours on one day, retailers locally and nationally are spreading the savings out, hoping to both draw more shoppers and avoid crowding in stores or being forced to limit capacity.
“We want our customers to be safe, we want our employees to be safe, so we’re trying to spread it out throughout the month and decided to make our Black Friday offer good all month long,” said Jim Heinitz, CEO of Furniture Mart USA, which includes South Dakota Furniture Mart, Unclaimed Freight Furniture and Ashley HomeStore locations.
His stores are offering up to half off merchandise for the rest of November – savings that typically only appear Black Friday, which is a critical time for the business.
“November is historically our No. 1 month in terms of retail sales, so it’s a huge month, and the weekend of Black Friday typically is our strongest three-day weekend of the year,” Heinitz said. “But this year with all the challenges of the pandemic, we really don’t want huge crowds. We really want people to know they can get the same price they can on Black Friday.”
For many retailers, holiday shoppers generate a significant share of annual business. In a year with little normalcy, they’re hoping that much endures.
“Last year, we were not in markets like Sioux Falls, and anytime you open a new store in a new region, how can you not have fun with that,” said Dennis Jensen, director of marketing and e-commerce for Runnings, which opened an expanded store on the east side late this summer in addition to rebranding the former Campbell Supply on the south side.
“The response from our customers has been incredibly positive. We’re still having new faces come in, and they seem really happy with the goods and different categories of products we’re offering, so it’s just been a really good experience.”
Runnings’ typical Black Friday weekend sale will be spread out for seven days, and its annual friends and family sale Dec. 13 will be a full day instead of four hours.
“Just about everything in the store is on sale,” Jensen said, adding that the sale is open to anyone and the store is ready to limit capacity if needed.
“We have a policy in place if that becomes an issue,” he said. “We have not run into any issues up to this point, but we’re ready.”
Other larger retailers also have learned to prepare for the unexpected this season.
“Every day is a different challenge we didn’t have to worry about a few months ago, but first and foremost it’s making sure staff and our guests shopping the stores are safe,” said Bob Meyer, senior vice president of merchandise and marketing for Lewis Stores Inc.
“It’s at the point now where it’s almost habit-forming because we’ve been doing it so long.”
Lewis also is adjusting its typical Black Friday approach, modeling it after a popular adjusted Ladies Night shopping event earlier this month. That promotion was spread over two days instead of four hours one day to reduce the size of the crowd.
“It went very well,” Meyer said. “We heard a lot of feedback from consumers who were appreciative we did a two-day event … and we’ve already talked about it in follow-up calls with managers asking if we can do it again next year because it was such a success.”
Lewis will still host reindeer appearances at several stores, along with Santa, who will take photos with guests from a distance instead of on his lap.
And the retailer has stepped up its holiday merchandise guides, with digital catalogs featuring toys, gifts and decor.
“Trim-a-home, Christmas lights, are going to be very big this year,” Meyer said.
“Instead of going on a large family trip, they’re spending that time at home and think, ‘If we’re going to be home, let’s decorate the house and go above and beyond what we’ve normally done.’ We’ve seen that sales trend already. When it was nice and warm (in early November), our light sales were off the charts.”
The early start to the holiday season is a theme for retailers statewide, said Nathan Sanderson, executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association.
“They’re trying to front-load that,” he said.
“They’re really trying to connect with the online shopper as well. COVID-19 has accelerated the pace of change. So if you were a business owner who was thinking about expanding your website or having a marketplace option, you did it. If you were thinking about going on social media, specifically Facebook, you did it. These folks are really trying to cater to those who might be more comfortable shopping from home or more comfortable with delivery.”
Retailers also started thinking about the holiday season earlier than normal – anticipating potential supply chain challenges with merchandise.
“I started early, I really did, and now I’m still pretty good,” said Sheryl Nelson, owner of Kidtopia. “I do have a good feeling about Christmas, so I hope I’m right. I just feel real positive about it.”
She advises shoppers to tackle gift-buying early for multiple reasons.
“As far as reordering and getting product in, it will be doubtful, especially with shipping the way it is. And companies are having a hard time fulfilling because they’re not prepared with COVID and having the employees to fulfill. They can’t handle it. And it’s not just me; it’s going to be hard all around finding stuff if people don’t shop early.”
She’s also offering curbside pickup, local delivery and has counters to limit how many people are in the store at once.
“If you have a special request, don’t be afraid to call the store, and we’ll do what we can to accommodate. We’re willing to do whatever,” she said. “I’m very optimistic. I’m hoping for the best. But the way COVID numbers are rising it’s hard to know. It’s just such a strange year. It’s hard to know.”
Tami Brown’s downtown store reflects the early start to the holiday season.
“We were way ahead on holiday season marketing and have gift sets in the store because people are already shopping,” said Brown, co-owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange on Phillips Avenue.
“We’re just cautiously optimistic that Sioux Falls will be the great supporters of local business. They have been since we opened, but we understand it’s a different time.”
The store will run daily promotions Dec. 1-12 and is offering an in-store wish list shoppers can complete for those looking for gift ideas.
“We’re still going to do curbside and shipping and free local delivery, and we’re also being even more conscious of trying to get gift items in packages and bundles and different price points,” Brown said.
“I think our guests are going to buy more consumable things. They might do small splurges on a couple bags of tea or spices instead of a $100 steak dinner. They will buy their own steaks and season them instead of going out.”
Many Main Street businesses are offering shopping by appointment, especially during off-peak times, Sanderson added.
“If you want to call and shop and have a private session on a Tuesday afternoon for half an hour, a lot of business owners are going to accommodate that.”
Zandbroz Variety in downtown Sioux Falls is considering that and trying it out at its location in Fargo, where COVID-19 has hit even harder.
“Our theme is going to be safe holiday shopping,” owner Jeff Danz said.
“We can’t do Saturdays where we have three to four times as many people (as normal) in the stores as we’re seeing now, so we’ll probably be controlling the count and not letting people in, but to avoid that, we’re going to try and message in every way that we can to shop early, shop late, we’re open late, we’re open 24 hours a day online, and we’re going to push curbside.”
He has been focusing on ordering stocking stuffers and practical gift items.
“Inventory is a dicier game than usual,” Danz said. “We were emboldened this summer to do most of our normal fourth-quarter ordering because we saw positive traffic this summer and did well.”
It likely won’t come as a surprise what retailers expect will sell this holiday season: think staying at home, getting outside and trying to destress.
“We’ve seen a shift from holiday-specific items to personal care, comfort and enjoyment type items,” Sanderson said. “So instead of a Christmas- or Thanksgiving-specific thing, they will stock coffee and great tea and blankets and comfortable socks and comfort items that might have more longevity than normal holiday items – recognizing a lot of people are stressed.”
At Lewis, shoppers have stocked up on the expected – personal protective gear and paper products – but also on food and beverages, cooking products and appliances.
“And we’ve seen a huge increase in the toy category,” Meyer said. “Lego building sets, puzzles, crafting, and our school and office department is popular with people home-schooling.”
At Runnings, there have been increases this year in nearly every category, Jensen said.
“We’re seeing increases from pet food to sporting goods to tools and clothing and footwear,” he said. “And what we’re seeing this year is folks are really getting outside. They’re tired of being cooped up.”
The stores have sold plenty of trampolines, fishing gear and other outdoor recreation items and anticipate that continuing, he said.
At Lewis, the outdoor theme hasn’t slowed with the weather as much as expected.
“We expected the grills and fire pits to slow down going into winter but … our grill sales are up 40 to 50 percent over the same time last year,” Meyer said.
Outdoor furniture has been popular at Furniture Mart stores too, Heinitz said.
“We sold pretty much anything we had, and it definitely was a great category,” he said. “Business has been very good. We’re not disappointed in the year.”
The supply chain has been “a huge challenge,” he added, especially for sofas and other stationary upholstery.
“We had a problem with mattresses but are well stocked now and should be through the holidays. We have a lot of motion furniture, and dining and bedroom is coming back stronger and quicker.”
People who passed on vacations this year instead are investing in pieces at home, he added. More people moving into new apartments or buying new homes helped too. He hopes the shopping trends continue in the crucial final weeks of the year.
“We’re open to making an appointment before or after the store might be open and are looking to serve the customer however we can,” Heinitz said. “We’re not talking about crowds anymore. We don’t want crowds. We want people to come and feel safe.”
Like most everything else, holiday shopping will look different this year. We checked in at area retailers on how the 2020 season is shaping up.