Pandemic forces big shifts to Black Friday and holiday retail, but you can still expect plenty of spending

Jazmin Jimenez leaves Simón Limón in Barrrio Logan.
Jazmin Jimenez leaves Simón Limón in Barrrio Logan. The gift shop, which showcases the work of about 50 artists and designers, is anticipating that shoppers increased desire to patronize small businesses will boost end-of-year sales.
(Denis Poroy/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Many of the things society has come to accept as seasonal truths will continue to ring true, albeit with COVID-19 caveats attached

Already a holiday season like no other, experts are looking into their crystal balls of shopping predictions and coming up with more questions than answers. Still, the consensus seems to be that, despite the pandemic’s unwelcome and unavoidable presence, there’s more reason for end-of-year retail cheer than fear.

For the holiday shopping season during November and December, the National Retail Federation anticipates sales excluding cars, gas and restaurants will grow 3.6 percent to 5.2 percent over last year to a total of $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion. It suggests consumer spending will be mostly on par with years past.

The trade association’s annual survey buoys the conclusion, finding that U.S. shoppers will spend, on average, $998 on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday-related purchases — or around $50 less than they did last year.

Many of the things society has come to accept as seasonal truths will continue to ring true, albeit with COVID-19 caveats attached. Retail veterans say Black Friday will, for instance, still be the busiest offline shopping day of the year, though with a measured year-over-year decline in foot traffic.


Cyber Monday will likewise rule in the online sales department, potentially with even more impact than in years past. And frenetic Thanksgiving Day shopping is here to stay, though it will largely take place on smartphones, tablets and computers.

“This is the year where the center of gravity for holiday shopping will shift from brick-and-mortar to e-commerce, and that will be a permanent shift,” said analyst Andrew Lipsman, who tracks the retail industry for eMarketer and has covered the season for 16 years.

It’s a shift that has, not surprisingly, been driven entirely by the pandemic.

"(The pandemic has caused) the biggest dislocation of consumer behavior we’ve seen in my lifetime,” Lipsman said.

People are now conditioned to buy more proactively and consciously, merchants are ramped up with more curbside and digital offerings, and shoppers who do venture into stores are willing to spend more all at once to avoid additional trips.

The net effect, the retail analyst said, is that both one-stop shops and Internet-savvy boutiques can win the season, whereas everyone in between — department stores and legacy big-box retailers — may suffer.

A purple-tinged Black Friday

The 2020 version of Black Friday is a conundrum of competing forces.


For starters, San Diego County stores must limit indoor capacity to 25 percent under the state’s most-restrictive purple tier. Simultaneously, landlords and proprietors are anxious to see people return to shops because their businesses depend on it more than ever. And since major malls and brands plan to stay closed on Thanksgiving Day, there will be no early-deal rush, which dispersed Black Friday crowds in years past.

“Do you have a much more precipitous drop off (in Black Friday foot traffic) or does it actually do OK because Thanksgiving Day shopping isn’t happening?” Lipsman said. “The dynamics there are among the least predictable. It could go in either direction.”

Local proprietors are equally unsure of what to expect, but they are heading into the holidays with an upbeat outlook.

“If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that this year is really uncertain,” said Nino Rodriguez, vice president of shopping center management for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. “We’ve been planning for every contingency.”


Staff will be onsite to break up crowds or slow down vehicle traffic, and tenants will use virtual queues to limit concentrated waiting in common areas, he said. Real-time traffic counters are available online for each of the operator’s four San Diego centers — Westfield UTC, Mission Valley, North County and Plaza Bonita — so shoppers can plan ahead.

Health ambassador Cheyanne Abolt at One Paseo
Health ambassador Cheyanne Abolt pulls a wagon of supplies like water, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to give out to customers at One Paseo.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“A lot of the information I’m seeing from retailers is that Black Friday is still a thing, and that people are still going to want to go out shopping on that Friday after Thanksgiving,” Rodriguez said. “We think that people are going to spread their time out throughout the day and really throughout the weekend, versus just having a massive crowd on Friday.”

Those who do patronize a Westfield mall will still get the full holiday experience, even if a socially distanced Santa photo will have to stand in for a lap shot. There’s even a new attraction at Westfield UTC called the Grinch’s Grotto. Rodriguez said he wanted to leave the reservation-required experience to the imagination, but described it as the antithesis of Santa’s workshop.


Carmel Valley’s One Paseo, equally prepared with holiday decor and pandemic-appropriate signage, is also anticipating an appetite for offline shopping.

“There are two schools of thought. There are those who are going to be hunkered down and there are those with a lot of pent-up demand to get out of the house,” said Brian Lewis, who is senior vice president of the outdoor center. “I truly believe that there are folks that can’t wait to get out of their four walls.”

And those same people are likely sitting on unused travel and entertainment budgets, he said.

“I think we’re going to be surprised in the numbers that are going to come out of the holiday season.”


Conscious consumerism

Whether it’s mom-and-pop boutiques like Barrio Logan’s Casa XoVi or well-established chains like San Diego-based Geppetto’s Toys, the holiday shopping season is crucial for generating profits — even in normal times. Add in a pandemic that has slashed capacity and scared some consumers into staying 比特币交易网home, and the outlook can be frightening for retailers.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that people are paying attention.

“I think there will be a trend toward more conscious consumerism, where people are going to look to support local business,” Lipsman, the retail analyst, said. “If you’re executing on all the things you need to do given how people are shopping today, I think a lot of small businesses can do just fine this holiday season.”

Qualitative data supports the conclusion with 74 percent of people surveyed in an online study commissioned by Union Bank indicating they felt a greater sense of responsibility to support their community. In addition, 51 percent of respondents in California said they’d spend $20 more on an item to support a small or local business versus saving $20 and purchasing from a large retailer.

Xochitl Villarreal at Casa XoVi in Barrrio Logan
Xochitl Villarreal, left, talks with Katie Martinez, center, and Bianca Delatorre, right, at Casa XoVi in Barrrio Logan. In the pandemic, Villarreal has had to reduce store hours and even close one of her stores, Nativo, also in Barrio Logan, after she was unable to keep up with the rent payments.
(Denis Poroy/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Xochitl Villareal, owner of the Casa XoVi boutique in Barrio Logan, is hoping her shop, which specializes in artisan items from Mexico, will stand out with its hand-painted ornaments and handmade paper flowers.

“Right now, we’re down 39 percent for October and November compared to last year,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be OK. I have a lot of customers waiting for the new stuff for Christmas, and I think we will get a lot of new people because the last three weeks we have seen people from L.A., Riverside, San Francisco, Fresno. I think people are tired of being 比特币交易网home.”

Still, even the best possible outcome will be bittersweet, as Villareal has already had to close one of her stores, Nativo, after she was unable to keep up with rent payments.


Logan Avenue stores like Casa XoVi have also turned to a community initiative called “Walk the Block” that allows merchants to bring their wares out onto the sidewalk in the hopes of drawing customers inside as well.

“Since we did that, it has helped a lot of businesses. It definitely helped me,” said Alexandra Perez Demma, owner of Simón Limón gift shop, which showcases the work of about 50 artists and designers. “Relying on online-only was super difficult, so doing this every Saturday, I no longer owe back rent, I’ve paid off a loan and am finally in a good position.”

Demma, who keeps her store open six days a week, has been doing more promotion on Instagram and believes the support of shoppers from the local community will help drive business to her small store.

“I think people want to support small businesses — and now, more than ever,” she said.


It’s a belief shared by Leah Kirpalani, owner of local clean beauty boutique Shop Good, who has tweaked the in-store experience at her One Paseo and North Park locations to make it more personal for shoppers.

Natalie Waller arranges products at Shop Good at One Paseo
Natalie Waller arranges products at Shop Good at One Paseo. The clean beauty boutique and spa has adapted to the pandemic with do-it-yourself facial kits, virtual skin consultations, curbside pickup and measures to limit in-store crowding.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Closed by state order for much of the year, Shop Good’s spa offerings resumed in September and have been booked to capacity. There are now COVID-friendly alternatives, of course, including virtual skin consultations and at-比特币交易网home facial packages delivered to doorsteps.

“In traditional years past, the back end of the year ... is definitely a growth period, a positive period for us,” Kirpalani said. “We would hope to turn a profit (this year). ... We’re cautiously optimistic.


“The biggest thing we’re leaning on is the San Diego community coming and showing up for small business this weekend.”

A COVID Christmas

The holiday retail season is a numbers game, and the odds have been stacked against most retailers.

The final quarter of the year typically represents 40 percent of all sales for the entire year, said Brian Miller, who owns the Geppetto’s chain of 10 stores, from Carlsbad to Seaport Village. The 10 days before Christmas, he added, can sometimes account for 10 percent of all sales for the year.

“I don’t think it will be like that this year,” said Miller, who is making some adjustments to adapt to the pandemic limitations. “The occupancy restriction limits how many people can come in and that will limit our sales.”


Miller would normally hire extra holiday workers, but staffing will be down 75 percent in December partly because he wants to use store capacity for customers instead of employees.

Miller has also expanded the Geppetto’s website with additional products and added the option to order online and pick up items at stores.

Maggie Gonzales finishes a painting at her Blue Pearl Art booth
Artist Maggie Gonzales finishes a painting at her Blue Pearl Art booth during the San Diego Made Holiday Market at Grossmont Center. The annual makers festival includes more than 60 artisans, makers and crafters from across San Diego.
(Nancee E. Lewis/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At the family-owned Grossmont Center in La Mesa, county public health orders have once again closed movie theaters and continue to disrupt the mall’s usually booked social calendar. Even Santa has been canceled.


“In 2019. I was really proud to host almost 100 events at the shopping center. That was our bread and butter,” said Trevor Moore, event director for the 59-year-old establishment. “A shopping center is a center of commerce and a center of humanity, and so I’ve always felt we needed to have things that make us more than a mall. This year, in 2020, all of those events would be deemed super-spreader events.”

All that’s left are the annual food drive and the San Diego Made Holiday Market hosted in the parking lot over two weekends.

Otherwise, Grossmont Center regulars are starting to come back, giving Moore a rosier outlook for the remainder of 2020.

“Despite the fact that we moved from the red to the purple tier at the most inopportune time of the year, I have hope that the collective consciousness around keeping moms and pops alive (will) get us through this year.”