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Retailers Change Up Black Friday Deals To Keep Shoppers Safe

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many businesses did not make it to this Black Friday. Maybe you've seen them shuttered in your neighborhood. But those that have endured until now may be in position for a big holiday shopping season. Though, it is definitely not safe to push your way into a crowded store, just about anything can be delivered to your door. If it's a gift, hopefully that is done discreetly. NPR retail correspondent Alina Selyukh is covering the story for us. Good morning.

ALINA SELYUKH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do retailers expect?

SELYUKH: So big picture across the board - all surveys are suggesting the majority of Americans plan to shop in-store or online this week or next. And forecasts suggest we're actually in for a record-setting holiday shopping season. Just to address, I always get this question about Black Friday - is it dead? And every year, I come here and I feel like I declare it dead and then get a bunch of annoyed messages from people who love it.

INSKEEP: Not dead.

SELYUKH: And I just want to say it's just no longer that obsession with this one, single day of the year. You may have heard these ads weeks ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: This year, Walmart turned Black Friday into deals for days, starting Saturday, November 7.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: This year, Target has Black Friday deals all November.

SELYUKH: Actually, sales began as far back as October in some cases, so a lot of people have already started their holiday shopping and don't intend to stop.

INSKEEP: OK. So we should really think of it as Black Fridays or Black Sunday, Monday, Tuesday...

SELYUKH: Many days.

INSKEEP: ...Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or something like that.

SELYUKH: Sales holiday.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) OK. This is mainly happening online for safety reasons, I assume.

SELYUKH: By far, the vast majority do say they plan to shop online on their phone screens because a big thing that happened this year, we got a lot of people becoming online converts for the first time, especially thinking things like grocery, health and beauty products, stuff that we used to have to see first. Well, here's Vivek Pandya, who tracks online shopping at Adobe Digital Insights.

VIVEK PANDYA: About 31% of consumers reported that they rarely shopped online or had never shopped online before. And the COVID pandemic was essentially a forcing function.

SELYUKH: And when you think about physical stores, every year, the International Council of Shopping Centers does a shopper survey. And this year, even this group is reporting a big drop in the number of people who say they plan to physically go shopping. But in that survey, almost two-thirds of respondents said they did plan to go shop at a physical store. It's a lot of people. And so stores are adjusting. You know, they're requiring masks, they are counting customers, again, to limit crowds and they're drawing attention to the cleaning measures, which is this, like, unglamorous thing that stores usually, like, to distract from. Well, now you've got, you know, sanitizers front and center.

INSKEEP: However people shop, what are they shopping for?

SELYUKH: Classic stuff - clothes, gift cards, toys, electronics, smart TVs, home speakers, that sort of thing. For years, we watched this shift toward experiences rather than things. Well, this year, we're back to things, you know, until we can start jumping back into massages or classes or whatnot. And especially I'm talking things for the home where we're spending all this time now - more holiday decorations to deck out the houses, books and crafts to occupy time. My favorite hot seller for the COVID time is - apparently air fryers are big for, you know, all that comfort food. So many families are still struggling financially. We hear about that every day. They still seem to say they want to feel special, they want to celebrate. The National Retail Federation predicts on average, shoppers are going to spend almost $1,000 on gifts, food, decorations and other holiday things, which is only a little bit less than last year when the economy looked extremely different.

INSKEEP: Alina, it's always a pleasure talking with you. Thanks.

SELYUKH: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Alina Selyukh. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.