Is Black Friday over for 2020? Here's what online retailers are doing as pandemic uncertainty looms

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The pandemic is creating anxiety for consumers as well as retailers. A dramatic spike in infections could upset holiday spending. The economy is an important pillar of Building A Better Bay Area.

The uncertainty of the election had consumers pausing their spending online. Now, Adobe Analytics says there's a fast rebound, no doubt stimulated by e-commerce sites promoting Black Friday deals all month long.

"We're seeing them kicking in earlier discounts, especially in these first early days of November," said Vivek Pandya, senior digital insights manager at Adobe. "We've seen discounts across categories come down by between five to 12%."

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The pandemic is changing how retailers and shoppers are approaching the biggest shopping day of the year. From moving the deals online to spacing out the in-store crowds, here's how Black Friday will be different in 2020.

Adobe says online spending has hit $22 billion in the past 10 days. That's 21% better than a year ago.

As rosy as that sounds, worries over rising COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates could turn upbeat forecasts from rosy to gloomy very quickly.

"It's kind of unpredictable where and how that's going to happen, so across the nation, retailers, they're going to see a lot of volatility," said Prof. Kirthi Kalyanam, director of the Retail Management Institute at Santa Clara University.

Kalyanam says holiday spending is split between two groups of consumers - those with secure jobs and incomes and those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The second group, still hoping for a second stimulus check, will likely watch their spending.

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The outlook for the economy and consumer holiday spending is growing more uncertain as shoppers have already changed their buying habits. A shift to online shopping is accelerating and could foretell that foot traffic in stores could fall off.

That has traditional and online retailers second guessing what to stock and where. That's leading to some goods available in stores but not online, and vice versa. That can confuse shoppers.

"Why is it that this product is available online and not in a physical store?" said Kalyanam. "Because these are completely different supply chains, and it's not easy in the short time period we have to shift product from one supply chain into the other."

He also has advice about returning gifts in January. With stores struggling in these difficult times, a new wave of closures could come in February. So don't delay doing after-holiday returns.

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