In prior years, my typical Black Friday was spent driving from store to store and reporting on my observations while doing some holiday shopping in the process. I’d be zipping around for more than 12 hours and was exhausted by the end of the day. This year, due to COVID, I didn't do my typical observations and shopping in stores. This year, I did what millions of other U.S. consumers did, I stayed home and shopped online.
And I loved it! It will not be easy to get me back to in-store shopping next year.
Shopping online was easy and efficient. Once I knew what I was going to buy, it was simply a matter of finding that item for the best value. Best value didn’t necessarily mean the best price. With so many exclusive special bundles being offered, I was willing to pay more to get that something special in addition to the item I wanted to buy. Retailer loyalty was not a factor.
This year, with nearly every retailer I shopped, there was the option to ship-to-home, buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS), or curbside pick-up—so I tried all three multiple times. At one retailer, I even received an additional 5% off if I picked up rather than shipped to my home. Frankly, I did not have any good experiences with BOPIS or curbside pick-up. The wait times for the order to be ready for pick-up all exceeded the two hours the website promised, by hours. And the wait time to pick-up the orders, both in store and curbside, all exceeded 30 minutes. Waiting in line in the store during a pandemic simply defeated the purpose of ordering online—it was simply not worth the risk I was taking. Ship-to-home appears to be the best choice, although I have not received any of those items as of this writing but my expectation is that I will get the orders on time.
It was Black Friday, and the first big day for holiday shopping during the pandemic, so perhaps retailers weren’t sure what to expect. But there are nearly four weeks to go before Christmas and, for toys, even bigger weeks to come than what we’ve seen during Black Friday week in prior years. Will physical retail stores be able to handle even greater online sales that consumers want to pick-up at the store? From my observations so far, they are going to need additional personnel to handle the flow if they want to be successful and keep customers happy.
The efficiency in shopping and being able to quickly find the best value is what sold me on the online channel for future holiday shopping. I was able to get 90% of my holiday shopping completed in just one day. In addition, I won’t need to worry if the items I want to buy will be in stock later in the season—a worry I don’t need this year. Will I shop the online channel more than I have in the past, even after the pandemic is resolved? Absolutely.