COVID-19’s Effect on Black Friday Shopping

Stores didn’t experience the usual surge in Black Friday shoppers, another hit in an already challenging year for retail

Brick-and-mortar retail has been one of the industries hardest hit by the Covid pandemic, and not even Black Friday, our country’s national shopping holiday, was able to make up for the challenges stores have faced this year.

While millions of people still shopped in person on Black Friday, turnout for the holiday was down from the previous year, and the boost stores typically enjoy on Black Friday was significantly less than in previous years, according to a new data analysis conducted by Near.

Large retailers experienced a 53% increase in foot traffic this Black Friday. In 2018 and 2019, those same stores saw Black Friday surges of more than 75%.

Store Year by Year Index

Near used its proprietary mobile location data to examine foot traffic into store locations across the country for four major retailers: Best Buy, K-Mart, Target and Walmart.

All of these stores saw a substantial increase in shoppers on Black Friday this year, as not even Covid could keep shoppers away from the shopping holiday’s signature, door-busting deals. But the gains in visitors were paltry compared to years prior.

Best Buy, for instance, had a nearly 300% increase in shoppers on Black Friday relative to a standard shopping day this year, which seems like a substantial growth. But Best Buy’s Black Friday bump was 544% in 2019 and 426% in 2018.

That is, Best Buy’s Black Friday surge in 2020 was 45% less than it was in 2019.

Across all stores, the Black Friday shopping surge was down about 30% from previous years.

2020% Index Difference from Previous Years

All of the stores included in this study had a similar experience. Shopping was up on Black Friday, but the surge was much smaller than they’re accustomed to, suggesting shoppers did their holiday shopping online this year — presumably because of fears about Covid and government guidance urging people to stay inside and avoid crowds, especially indoors.

Some might speculate that this year’s dismal Black Friday holiday is not an anomaly, and that Black Friday has been receding for years due to the growing popularity of ecommerce, but that’s not the case. The number of shoppers and the total amount of money spent on Black Friday 2019 was actually up from the previous year. 

This increase is reflected in our data. There was a substantial increase in the number of people visiting big box retailers on Black Friday 2019 from the same weekend the year before.

It’s true ecommerce poses a significant challenge to the physical retail business, and that competition has only stiffened during the pandemic. Ecommerce has exploded during the pandemic with people staying home more. Unfortunately for physical retail, that was true on Black Friday, as well.