As COVID-19 Surges, Black Friday Crowds Don’t

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed this year’s Black Friday retail shopping frenzy, in which hordes of shoppers typically camp out overnight waiting for stores to open early on the morning after Thanksgiving — or, in recent years, start shopping right after they finish their turkey dinners.

Not this year.

With COVID-19 surging in what health experts are calling a third wave of the disease, none of the big retailers opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day — not even Walmart, which used to be open all day, or Target and Best Buy, which opened for business in the late afternoon or at midnight.

The big retailers also began offering their deep discounts several weeks before Black Friday, often targeting online shoppers with Web-only specials. And the year’s hottest gift item, Sony’s new PlayStation 5 video game console, saw gamers glued to the Internet to watch for alerts on Twitter and other social media channels about the next wave of consoles available at the various retailers, mostly for online purchase.

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“One thing that is happening, and has been happening for awhile, is the past couple of years, we’ve seen Black Friday deals moving more and more online,” Amir Neto, director of Lutgert College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University, told USA Today. “This year, there are more incentives to maintain or expand this trend.”

Adobe Analytics on Nov. 27 reported that online spending on Thanksgiving Day rose by nearly 22% to reach a new record of $5.1 billion, from $4.1 billion last year. The research firm said November and December online sales are expected to jump 33% this year, totaling $189 billion, including $10.3 billion on Black Friday.

Aside from the big retail players, Family Video, the last remaining national chain of dedicated video stores, sent out an email early Friday morning offering discounts of up to 75% on Warner Bros. DVDs, Blu-ray Discs and 4K Ultra HD titles, including Aquaman, The Dark Knight, Inception, Doctor Sleep, 12 Strong and Annabelle. “You will not find better Black Friday deals on Blu-rays, DVDs, and 4K Blu-rays from Warner Bros. anywhere else!” the Family Video email read, noting that the sale ends Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, with physical stores having offered discounts all week, reports on Black Friday itself suggest the early rush to physical retail stores is more of a trickle this year. A Target store in Costa Mesa, Calif., was practically empty shortly after 7 a.m. on Nov. 27. “It looks like any other day,” said one observer.

Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9. Signs were placed not only in the electronics area, but in some stores displays were put in the clothing section in the center of the store and at checkout. One customer in Mission Viejo, Calif., noted that the sales weren’t as prevalent as previous years.

At a Costa Mesa Best Buy, there were fewer than two dozen people waiting in a socially distant line, a far cry from prior years.

In Oceanside, Calif., a Walmart was a little busier, but the traditional DVD and Blu-ray Disc “dump bins,” featuring catalog movie titles priced as low as $2 to $5, were conspicuously absent. “It’s really slow,” a clerk said.

The movie aisle at an Oceanside, Calif. Walmart on Black Friday 2020, shortly before 9 a.m.

Chicago resident Maria Lopez, who often shops on Black Friday, said she was only visiting one store this year out of concerns of contracting the coronavirus. Lopez bought a 42-inch television from Best Buy.
“It’s so sad,” Lopez told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve been out since 6 a.m. and there were no long lines. It’s definitely not the same like years prior.”

And yet the National Retail Federation earlier in the week  forecast that total holiday sales during November and December would be up by as much as 5.2% from the same period last year, generating $755.3 billion to $766.7 billion in revenue. The data, which excludes automobile dealers, gasoline stations and restaurants, compares with a 4% increase in 2019, and an average holiday sales gain of 3.5% over the past five years.

“We know this holiday season will be unlike any other, and retailers have planned ahead by investing billions of dollars to ensure the health and safety of their employees and customers,” Matthew Shay, CEO of the retail trade group, said in a statement. “Consumers have shown they are excited about the holidays and are willing to spend on gifts that lift the spirits of family and friends after such a challenging year.”

NRF expects that online and other non-store sales, which are included in the total, will increase between 20% and 30% to between $202.5 billion and $218.4 billion, up from $168.7 billion last year.

“Given the pandemic, there is uncertainty about consumers’ willingness to spend, but with the economy improving most have the ability to spend,” said NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

Redbox is participating in the Black Friday discounting frenzy with specials across all its platforms, physical as well as online. Through the weekend, the retailer is offering customers who rent two discs at its more than 40,000 kiosks 50 cents off, as well as “price drops” on digital rentals through Redbox On Demand. Redbox also is hosting a used movie sale at “select kiosks,” selling off previously viewed copies of films such as Trolls World Tour ($3.99), The Tax Collector ($5.99) and Justice League ($3.99).

On the streaming front, NBCUniversal as a Black Friday special offered 20% off access to the Peacock subscription streaming service, while Hulu launched a discounted $1.99 monthly promotion at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. The campaign gives new and returning subscribers 12-month access to the ad-supported Hulu option, which amounts to a $48 savings over the recently reduced $5.99 monthly fee (from $7.99). The ad-free subscription plan remains priced at $11.99 monthly.

Additional reporting by John Latchem and Stephanie Prange

Merchandising: Stores Reconfigure for ‘Black Friday’

Preparations for annual Black Friday sales left retailers mostly ignoring the new DVD and Blu-ray disc releases of Nov. 24, not that the list had many notable titles to begin with.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and a desire to cut down on the massive crowds that typically show up for the bargains offered the day after Thanksgiving, stores have been offering special discounts for most of the month already. This week, however, has seen merchandise configurations more akin to what a Black Friday would typically look like.

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For instance, a Target in Tustin, Calif., set up cardboard displays of catalog DVDs and Blu-rays near the front of the store in what is usually an area for women’s clothing. Target is running a buy-two-get-one-free promotion on books, movies and music. Blu-rays and DVDs could be had for as low as $4, $7 and $9.

A Best Buy in Costa Mesa, Calif., had a sizeable line the evening of Nov. 24, which is likely more due to a resurgence of pandemic restrictions limiting the number of guests allowed in the store. Best Buy’s deals include select Blu-rays for $5.99; Blu-rays and 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays for $7.99 or $9.99; Disney movies starting at $9.99; and collectible Steelbooks for $14.99.

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Merchandising: Best Buy Offers ‘New Mutants’ Steelbook

Among the new disc releases Nov. 17, the most notable retail exclusive was Best Buy’s 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of Disney’s The New Mutants.

Best Buy offered the metal-encased edition for $34.99.

Disney’s long-running issues with Amazon seem to still be in effect, however, as the online retailer did not have New Mutant discs available in any capacity, even through third-party sellers. Amazon also still isn’t selling last week’s release of the live-action Mulan, which is offered only through third-party sellers.

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Target offered 15% off select recent Lionsgate releases through its Target Circle app add-on. Titles included Henchmen, Guest House, Hard Kill, Antebellum and Schitt’s Creek: The Complete Series.

Merchandising: ‘Mulan’ Makes Its Way to Retail

Disney released its live-action Mulan on Blu-ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD Nov. 10, having announced the street date just four days before. The film famously bypassed theatrical distribution due to the coronavirus pandemic in lieu of several PVOD options tested by the studio.

The disc version arrived with a couple of retailers offering the typical kind of exclusive editions they usually do.

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At Target, the Mulan 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack was offered as a limited-edition with a pack-in gallery book for $34.99.

Best Buy offered its usual Steelbook edition for Mulan, with a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack priced at $34.99.

Best Buy’ ‘Mulan’ 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook

Interestingly, discs of the new Mulan were not listed at Amazon.com prior to their release date, and even after, the only copies that show up in searches are offered by third-party sellers.

Among other promotions, Best Buy is giving fans of HBO’s “Westworld” a chance to preorder the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of the third season and get Steelbooks of the first two seasons for $9.99 each. According to the Best Buy website, however, the season one Steelbook is sold out. The season three Steelbook is listed with a Dec. 8 street date, although the non-exclusive versions of the season arrive in all stores Nov. 17.

Target was running a buy-two-get-one-free mix-and-match deal with movies, books, music, video games, board games and craft activities.

 

Merchandising: Retailers Bring ‘Back to the Future’ Exclusives

Universal Pictures’ new Back to the Future Trilogy boxed set arrived Oct. 20 with exclusive editions from Best Buy and Target.

Best Buy, as usual, offered a Steelbook edition of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the trilogy, at $64.99.

Best Buy’s ‘Back to the Future Trilogy’ Steelbook

Target offered a gift set of the regular Blu-ray, at $42.99, which included a levitating hoverboard replica.

Target’s ‘Back to the Future Trilogy’ gift set

The 4K version of the hoverboard gift set was available from Amazon for $69.98.

The other notable exclusive for the week came at Target, which offered a Steelbook edition of The Twilight Saga from Lionsgate, for $29.99.

Target’s ‘Twilight Saga’ Steelbook

Target also offered 30% off select Halloween movies and books.

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Merchandising: Best Buy Offers ‘Paranoia Agent’ Blu-ray Steelbook

Among the scant deals on new DVD and Blu-ray releases Oct. 13, Best Buy as usual had a few exclusive Steelbook editions of new titles.

Most notable was a Blu-ray Steelbook of Funimation’s Paranoia Agent: The Complete Series for $37.99.

The anime series focuses on a boy named Lil’ Slugger who attacks a series of seemingly unconnected victims with a golden baseball bat. As detectives attempt to find a link between the victims, they discover that the victims’ lives have somehow improved.

A regular Blu-ray edition of the show will be widely released Dec. 15.

Best Buy also offered a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook edition of Sony Pictures’ District 9, for $27.99.

Best Buy’s ‘District 9’ 4K Steelbook

Target was holding a buy-two-get-one-free sale on music, movies and books.

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Big Retail Looks to Counter Amazon Prime Days With Steep Discounts

When Amazon pushed back its annual Prime Days e-commerce sales event from the summer to Oct. 13-14, big box competitors were faced with a decision: counter the online behemoth’s signature event that generated more than $7 billion in sales last year with competing discounts, or wait until November’s Black Friday, the industry’s traditional retail event the day after Thanksgiving.

They’re doing both.

Big box chains such as Target, Walmart and Best Best Buy are launching Black Friday-type discounts this week on select big-ticket consumer electronics, toys, clothing and gaming items in an effort to lure consumers with contactless retail, including curbside delivery of both in-store and e-commerce transactions in the COVID-19 era.

Target is bowing “Deal Days,” and Best Buy is offering early access to select Black Friday deals during the same Prime Days period. Walmart, which recently launched its own retail subscription program to compete with the Prime membership, began its “Big Save Event” on Oct. 11 (at 7 p.m. ET) through Oct. 15.

Walmart is offering 21% Off JVC 32-inch class HD Roku Smart LED televisions, 32% of Samsung Smart Watches, $100 Off Beats Solo Pro Wireless headsets, 24% Off Roku Streaming Stick.

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Best Buy is marketing a 70-inch Samsung 4K HD Smart TV for $529.99. It will also sell laptop computers priced at $119.99 as part of the early sale.

“This will be a holiday season like no other, and we want to help our customers shop how, where and when they want,” Best Buy spokesman Keegan Shoutz told USA Today. “This year, that means helping them start their shopping early, by starting our Black Friday deals earlier than ever before.”

Target said it would offer deals on “hundreds of thousands of items across its electronics, toys, beauty, and home departments,” including offering contactless drive-up and order pickup on many items. Indeed, fast-forwarding Black Friday discounts enables chains to promote their enhanced safety protocols while minimizing the traditional long lines and crowded malls in November.

“There are so many unknown variables this year,” Tyson Cornell, head of the U.S. consumer markets group at PwC, told The Washington Post. “By kicking off sales in October, [retailers] are hoping to spread consumer traffic and demand over the next few months, helping them maintain social distancing in stores, consistently move inventory and adjust their strategies based on early consumer demand.”

James Zahn, senior editor of trade magazine Toy Insider, said the stampede mentality of the past, with doorbusters sales and Black Friday deals every weekend, is being replaced by earlier, season-long discounts.

“We’re in a health crisis, so retailers are having to rethink how they get products into families’ hands,” Zahn said.

Merchandising: ‘Tax Collector’ 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Exclusive to Best Buy

Best Buy’s ‘Tax Collector’ 4K Steelbook

The new releases for Oct. 6 saw more exclusive Steelbook editions from Best Buy.

Most notable, though, is that Best Buy has the exclusive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of RLJ’s The Tax Collector. The 4K Tax Collector is available as a Steelbook combo pack containing 4K and regular Blu-ray discs for $19.99.

Among the Best Buy Steelbooks for catalog titles released during the week was Warner’s 300, a 4K combo pack for $29.99.

Best Buy’s ‘300’ 4K Steelbook

Best Buy also had 4K Steelbook combo packs for three Paramount movies at $24.99 apiece: Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan and Mission: Impossible — Fallout.

Best Buy’s ‘Interstellar’ 4K Steelbook
Best Buy’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ 4K Steelbook
Best Buy’s ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout’ 4K Steelbook

Elsewhere, Target offered 15% off all Disney movies on disc.

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Merchandising: Best Buy Brings Out Several 4K Steelbooks

Best Buy released several exclusive Steelbook editions for 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs released Sept. 15.

Among the Sept. 15 4K Steelbook releases:

  • Hocus Pocus, from Disney, $27.99;
  • Home Alone, from Disney’s 20th Century Studios, $27.99;
    Goodfellas, from Warner, $22.99;
  • 21 and 22 Jump Street in a two-movie Steelbook set, from Sony Pictures, $44.99.

 

In addition, Best Buy also released a standard Blu-ray Steelbook editions of the of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, from Disney’s 20th Century Studios, and 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, from Warner. Both are listed at $14.99.

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Target offered 25% off select TV shows on DVD in stores and online.

Walmart offered early disc release of a couple of Warner titles slated for Oct. 6 everywhere else: the Blu-ray and DVD of Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite!, and the DVD of Happy Halloween Scooby-Doo!, the latest animated movie in the franchise. Both are also available early on disc for rental at Redbox kiosks.

Merchandising: Steelbooks Galore After Labor Day

Several Steelbook editions of new and catalog titles hit shelves Sept. 8, and not just at Best Buy, which is best known for offering the exclusive packaging variant.

Best Buy offered the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Steelbook of Lionsgate’s Ghost in the Shell at $19.99 to mark the 25th Anniversary of the anime movie.

A few titles from Universal Pictures also made their way to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray at Best Buy via the Steelbook, at $22.99 apiece: 47 Ronin, 2020’s The Invisible Man, and the 60h anniversary re-release of Psycho.

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Best Buy also offered an exclusive edition of Warner’s animated Superman: Man of Tomorrow, but it wasn’t a Steelbook. Best Buy offered a $29.99 gift set of the film that paired the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray combo pack with a figurine of the Parasite character.

Best Buy’s ‘Superman: Man of Tomorrow’ with Parasite figurine

To get Man of Tomorrow in Steelbook packaging, fans had to head to Target, which offered the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the movie in the collector’s packaging for $19.99 (though the box art was the same as the standard release).

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Another Steelbook offered through Target was Lionsgate’s Rob Zombie Trilogy Blu-ray set at $29.99, containing House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and 3 From Hell.

Target’s ‘Rob Zombie Trilogy’ Steelbook

Target also offered an exclusive Jojo Siwa Party Pack at $19.99, a three-DVD bundle of Nickelodeon’s “Jojo Siwa” programs

Target’s ‘Jojo Siwa’ bundle

Speaking of Nickelodeon, Amazon had the Paw Patrol: Jet to the Rescue DVD Sept. 3, before other stores stocked in Sept. 8.