Shoppers Experience A Whole New Black Friday

Adam Dean Howe
Enterprise Staff
We all knew that Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, the biggest shopping weekend of the holiday season, was going to be different in 2020.  Why wouldn't it be? 
From masks to occupancy limits inside stores to social distancing being practiced inside retail outlets and throughout shopping centers, these particular shopping days were assuredly different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, retailers collectively blew up the traditional start to the holiday shopping season.  Instead of early morning (or even late night) door-busting discounts and opening doors to frenzied crowds, major players in the industry spread their discounts throughout the entire month of November and some even began launching sales events in October. 
Closer to home though, local merchants did not feel an impactful effect and were pleased with the first big weekend of holiday shopping 
"This was a very busy weekend for us," Jennifer Flores, owner and proprietor of Country Charm, a Warsaw boutique said. "We extended our hours to accommodate crowds and we opened on an additional day too, so that provided more opportunities for our guests to shop.  It might have been one of the busiest sales stretches that we've ever had!"
Moberly-based Orscheln Farm and Home, who's store number 125 is in Warsaw, agreed that, in town, shoppers didn't seem to shy away from their normal experience.
"We probably saw about the same traffic as years past," Tim Voss, manager of Orscheln #125 said.  "Crowds were still pretty big but we did notice that consumers seem to be more conscious."
Crowds were so abundant that inventory issues plagued both local retailers.
"We kept putting out inventory and it just kept selling," Flores added.
"We ran short on a lot of our sale items, especially in sporting goods," Voss said.
According to Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of Coresight Research, fewer than 20% of shoppers planned to actually shop in stores on Black Friday, based on her firm's survey data from November 23.
But a decline, of course, doesn't mean that there was zero foot traffic on Black Friday.
Many area shoppers didn't let the pandemic hinder their annual event.
"This is the one time during the year that I really shop," Eryn Kellner said. "Jackie (Whitaker) and I usually leave late on Thursday night and go out of town.  We shop all night and then usually get home later the next night.  This year though, we didn't leave until 3:00am, got to Springfield and were in lines before 5:00am and were home by 5:00pm."
"The first place we went was Bass Pro Shop and when we got there, the line was already 'a mile' long," Jackie Whitaker said. "But it seemed like even more people got out around lunchtime."
Like Kellner and Whitaker, Tracey Spry usually pulls an all-night shopping trip too, but had to alter her plans.
"I went to Osage Beach, but this year there was just no rush to get out early since no stores really opened until Friday," Spry said.  "The crowds were not nearly as large as in the past though."
Heather Bagley said that she and her group saw the same thing in the city.
"We went to Independence and the amount of people that we saw was really low," she said.  
All shoppers agreed that most establishments probably appeared busier than they actually were because of limited capacities in their stores.
"Some businesses were busy and had really long lines due to limited customers being allowed in their stores," Cindy Murrell said, who shopped with Bagley.
Regardless of where their venture took them over the weekend, every Christmas creeper saw similar precautions being taken in regards to the pandemic. 
"When we shopped in Cole Camp, all stores had hand sanitizer at the door, but there were no restrictions on crowds," Sarah Thayer said.  "But when we went to Sedalia after that, we had to wear a mask in about every place we went into."
"All shops that I visited did a great job with social distancing and wearing masks," Amy Spunaugle said, who did most of her shopping locally.
"We had to wear masks even when we were standing in lines, socially distanced," Kellner said.
"We did have to wear masks in all of the stores and most dressing rooms were all closed," Spry said.
"Everyone wore masks and I felt that all of the stores that we went to took the safety of their customers seriously," Bagley agreed.
"We wore our masks everywhere in the mall except for when Ellie (Murrell) and I sat down to eat in the food court," Taylor Howe said, who shopped in the Bagley group.  "But we were still socially distanced there."
But the deals . . . 
"I originally didn't go to do Black Friday shopping," Emily Felix said.  "But when I got there, 'no one' was there.  Nothing had really been picked through yet so I scored a few presents and ended up with my cart filled over the top!"
"The sales for the bigger retail stores did not seem as good as years past," Bagley argued.
Spry agreed when she said, "I only shopped for a few hours because I wasn't seeing any amazing deals."
She went on to say, "I've already ordered some stuff online and that's probably how I'll finish up."
"I'm going to try to wrap up at small, local businesses, but I'll probably still have to use Amazon for a few things," Thayer said.
Felix said that she would love to do that, but may have problems.
"I do some online shopping, but a lot of that was harder to do this year because a lot of items were out of stock.  I think more people shopped online this year rather than actually doing it in person."
As a matter of fact, online shopping has been surging all year with the pandemic and as COVID-19 cases hit alarming new highs, millions of customers opted to stay home and shop by computer or phone.
Thanksgiving hit a new record for digital sales, with 21.5% year-over-year growth to $5.1 billion.  Black Friday rocketed past that, with online sales hitting $9 billion, an increase of 21.6% from last year, according to Adobe.
The online shopping experience, though much easier and able to be done from the comfort of your own couch, still does not present the same opportunities and memories that is offered by the hands-on experience.
"Overall, Black Friday shopping was fun and memorable," Bagley said in summary.  "But not for the great deals; for the wonderful people that I got to spend time with."