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Walmart's reinvented Black Friday for the pandemic looks a lot like early voting, with deals available days before the actual day after Thanksgiving.

The largest U.S. retailer is anticipating that COVID-19 will subdue crowds on Black Friday, so it's spacing out its discounts and controlling how it plans to let shoppers into its stores.

"We've been very thoughtful as we planned this year's event. By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates," said Scott McCall, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer for Walmart U.S.

Walmart's discounts will begin on Nov. 4 and new ones will be added through Saturday, Nov. 7. The same Wednesday through Saturday cadence will happen the following week. Then the discounting skips a week and starts again on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. All discounts begin on Walmart.com, and in a holiday season that's expected to have shipping capacity issues, Walmart added a new option for customers to receive their online Black Friday orders through its curbside pickup service.

In recent years when shoppers were brought into the store in advance for Walmart's Black Friday doorbusters so they could line up in the areas where the products they wanted were stacked and ready for the start of shopping.

On Black Friday, Walmart stores will open at 5 a.m. after being closed on Thanksgiving for the first time in several years.

Shoppers will line up outside in a single line.

Customers will be metered so a finite number will be allowed in at a time.

Shoppers will be handed a sanitized shopping cart, which will also encourage social distancing.

Walmart staff will greet customers as they enter to remind them to put on a mask.

Customers will be directed to shop down the right-hand side of the aisles.

It's not clear how many shoppers want to venture out for Black Friday.

Slightly more shoppers (44%) said they planned to shop this week's two-day Prime Day — started by Amazon and now held by most retailers — than on Black Friday (41%), according to a Bain & Co. survey of 3,300 consumers. Almost half of those surveyed (46%) said they plan to shift their shopping away from stores to online or through delivery and pickup from a store.

ShopperTrak, a firm that measures in-store customers, said last week that it still expects Black Friday to be the busiest in-store shopping day of the year, followed by the Saturday before Christmas, but store traffic in November and December is expected to be down as much as 25% below last year because of the pandemic.

 

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