LUMBERTON — Local businesses are countering the uncertainty of COVID-19 by pushing Black Friday sales online and putting in place extra sanitation measures in stores.
Stores like Big Lots! have adapted to COVID-19 restrictions and made adjustments to make customers feel safe as they shop.
The retail chain has extended its Black Friday sale to span four days this year in order to give shoppers more time to shop for sales without the crowds, said Ebony Campbell, furniture manager. The sales started online and in-person Wednesday and were to conclude on Friday.
Campbell has worked at the store on North Roberts Avenue in Lumberton for four years, and said she was unsure what to expect on Friday.
“We’re not as busy as I expected,” she said Wednesday.
The store’s holiday operations have been a little different this year because of COVID-19, Campbell said. This year the store didn’t hire more seasonal workers, and the virus has slowed regular business.
But the store’s online offerings, including curbside pickup, will be an asset during the sales this year, she said. The sales include 25% off of toys and discounts on fire places and recliners.
And to make customers feel more comfortable about coming into the store to shop she frequently sanitizes the surfaces of card readers at her register.
“We’re trying to keep it pretty sanitized,” she said.
The National Retail Federation predicts holiday sales during November and December will increase between 3.6% and 5.2% from 2019 to total between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion.
“With ecommerce sales up 36.7 percent year-over-year during the third quarter, many households are expected to depend on digital shopping to make many of their holiday purchases, just as they have for much of their everyday spending this year. The online spending includes websites operated by bricks-and-mortar retailers, which have become major players in the online market as retail channels have merged,” according to the NRF.
NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay expects consumers to spend this holiday season, even after hardships caused by COVID-19.
“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,” he said.
“We expect a strong finish to the holiday season, and will continue to work with municipal and state officials to keep retailers open and the economy moving forward at this critical time,” Shay added.
Biggs Park Mall in Lumberton was to be closed Thanksgiving, Mall Manager Chelsea Biggs said. It will reopen at 6 a.m. Friday and close at 10 p.m. Hours of operation on Saturday are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
This year is the first in about three years the mall has been closed on Thanksgiving, she said.
“They’ve decided they want to give their employees a break,” she said of the stores’ management.
Many stores started sales on Wednesday, with doorbusters still set for the weekend.
Mall management has taken steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, she said. Those steps include placing sanitizing stations throughout the mall and requiring face masks for entry. Most stores also have occupancy limits.
“We want the customers to know that we are trying to make it as safe as possible for them,” Biggs said.
Biggs encourages county residents to shop local and support area businesses so they can continue serving the community.
Workers at Tomlinson’s, in the mall, were tagging discounted merchandise Wednesday ahead of Black Friday sales, said Donna Davis, store manager.
“We just don’t know what to expect this year as far as people getting out shopping,” she said.
But workers will be ready to meet customers at the door Friday, and will offer curbside pick up on items that can be ordered over the phone.
The store will wrap Christmas gifts and give an extra gift with each purchase this year, she said. Gifts may include scarves or houseware items, among others.
“With every purchase we have a giveaway…,” she said. “Just a little thank you for shopping at Tomlinson’s.”
The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Bath & Body Works Store Manager Veronica McCallum could be seen switching out merchandise at the Biggs Park Mall location.
McCallum said she was “ready for the big Friday.”
As part of a weeklong sale that began Monday, the store is offering three of any item for free after the purchase of three other items. Customers could also shop online for other sale items, which could be shipped to their homes.
The store hired about 40 seasonal workers to help with holiday sales. And McCallum anticipates a lot of shoppers on Friday.
“With the crowd we’ve been having I’m expecting a lot of people,” she said. “We always blow it out the water.”
Sister’s Boutique and Shoes, located at 4533 Fayetteville Road in Lumberton, has moved many sales items online, said Frank Evans, a store employee.
Since COVID-19 restrictions went into effect in March, the store has shipped items to customers in other states, Evans said. Among those items are more than 900 face masks and shields.
“That’s been a big help,” he said.
But the employee doesn’t see a large sales day on Black Friday, a day when many people typically wait in a line outside the store to buy gifts.
“I don’t believe Black Friday is going to be a bonanza for anybody but Walmart,” Evans said.
“It’s a cyber game now,” he added.
Virus restrictions have affected shipping volumes and merchandise arrival times, which have left stores like the boutique limited in merchandise offerings, as compared to previous years, he said.
The boutique will offer clothing at 50% to 70% off the normal price. Jewelry and UGG boots will be 30% off.
Jernigan’s hosted Black Friday sales all week, with clothing half-price, said Libby Davis, store manager. The store, at 4305 Fayetteville Road in Lumberton, had few sales in 2019, but in an effort to rebound from COVID-19 impacts and provide customers a place to shop small and avoid crowds, it decided to add more sales items this year.
The store sells shoes, clothing, home decor and other items.
“We’re like a one-stop shop,” she said.
The store will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Workers at Thee She Shed were anticipating sales during their first Black Friday, Aspen Batten, a store employee, said Wednesday.
“We’re excited to do, you know, our first Black Friday and Small Town Saturday,” Batten said.
The store, which opened Nov. 14 at 790 S. Roberts Ave. in Lumberton, offers personalized monogramming and embroidery.
The store will continue to post updates on its Facebook page.
“We’re still trying to figure it all out,” she said. “It’s new to us.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation warns holiday shoppers to be aware of online shopping scams.
“With more people than ever before shopping online, FBI Charlotte wants to warn shoppers to be diligent about what gifts they are buying, and where they’re buying those gifts. Scammers count on you not to do your homework, and to believe those expensive gifts in pop-up ads are truly half price,” a release from the FBI Charlotte Field Office reads in part.
Scammers may offer “too-good-to-be-true deals through phishing emails or advertisements,” according to the statement. Some might offer brand name merchandise at “extremely low” prices with incentives like gift cards to be given after the purchase.
“Don’t fall for it. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is,” the statement reads in part.
The FBI offered the following tips to online shoppers this holiday season:
— Buy directly from a secure and reputable website.
— Beware of social media posts that appear to offer special vouchers or gift cards, or particularly low prices.
— Verify the legitimacy of buyers or sellers before making a purchase. If you’re using an online marketplace or auction website, check feedback ratings.
— Avoid solicitations or ads with misspelled words, broken English, or requests to pay for your order with a gift card.
— Track your order through your original confirmation email.
— Check your credit card and bank statements regularly to make sure no fraudulent charges show up.
Shoppers who suspect they have been victims of a scam, should first contact their financial institution and then contact local law enforcement. Then, they should file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov .