Black Friday 2020: Shop early to avoid delays or wait for the best deals?

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: COVID-19 drives surge of online shopping' Coronavirus: COVID-19 drives surge of online shopping
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in thousands of people shying away from malls and in-person retailers due to concerns over limiting the spread of the coronavirus and as a result, online shopping companies are seeing a surge of business. With back-to-school around the corner in the U.S., some consumer experts expect another surge in July for school-related purchases – Jul 24, 2020

Black Friday shopping in the era of COVID-19 presents a dilemma. Should you wait for the best deals or buy early to ensure all your orders arrive in time for the holidays?

With coronavirus case counts soaring, shopping via mouse-clicks and thumb scrolls will likely outweigh in-store purchases this year, according to a recent report by consultancy PwC Canada. That, in turn, will generate record demand for package delivery at a time when couriers and shippers are already under strain.

READ MORE: Online shopping sales surge by 99% in Canada amid coronavirus pandemic 

On the other hand, many retailers don’t roll out their steepest discounts until Black Friday weekend, which runs from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29 this year, with Cyber Monday falling on Nov. 30.

But can deal hunters afford to hold out that long?

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Here’s what the experts say.

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No one is flying and that’s a problem

A.J. Hernandez is bracing for a holiday season like no other.

The summer months, usually the slowest period for retailers and the logistics sector, already saw Christmas-like volumes, says Hernandez, the CEO of SkyPostal, a Miami, Fla.-based international shipper.

“One can only imagine what’s going to come about now in the coming weeks as we enter into the holiday season,” Hernandez says.

The challenge isn’t just from record numbers of packages that will have to find their way from stores and warehouses to customers’ doorsteps. There also aren’t as many options as usual to ship merchandise across the world, Hernandez says.

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That’s because air passenger traffic globally is down more than 70 per cent compared to pre-pandemic times, according to Hernandez.

It’s a massive headache for companies, like SkyPostal, that normally buy unused space in the belly of passenger airplanes for the goods they’re moving.

Passenger planes fly often on set routes, making them a convenient way for SkyPostal’s cargo to hitch a ride. Freight aircraft, on the other hand, typically do not fly until the plane is full, Hernandez says.

READ MORE: Where’s your delivery? Canada Post backlog amid COVID-19 keeps customers guessing

SkyPostal’s usually relies on passenger planes for 75 per cent of its volume, according to Hernandez.

In-country and ground transportation is also a problem these days, he says. Both in Canada and the U.S., the delivery infrastructure is already stretched thin, he adds.

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“They’ve just not got enough delivery people, enough delivery vehicles. They don’t have truckers,” he says.

On top of that, physical-distancing protocols at processing facilities are complicating operations, says Kate Musgrove, director of

Canada Post has asked Canadians to shop early this holiday season, warning that parcel volumes could “overwhelm capacity.”

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Black Friday creep is here but what about door-crasher deals?

Black Friday has long stopped being a one-day event. For the past several years, retailers have been stretching out the shopping extravaganza with all manners of early discounts starting days in advance.

This year, though, the Black Friday sales began as soon as November rolled around, says Musgrove.

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An international survey by Shopify shows that more than half of its merchants indicated in early September they expected consumers to begin their holiday shopping before Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. This prompted retailers to start preparing for the shopping peak season earlier than previous years, according to the company.

At RedFlagDeals, the shopping surge started in October, Musgrove says. The volume of sales linked to the site last month was more than four times what it was in October 2019, she says.

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And that wasn’t just because Amazon postponed its annual Prime Day from mid-July to mid-October, Musgrove says. Shopping activity on RedFlagDeals kept gaining momentum through the month, suggesting an early start to the holiday shopping calendar, she adds.

While shoppers are worried about delivery delays, retailers are nervous about ensuring they make the most of the all-important holiday season, Musgrove says.

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“They’re pushing out deals earlier so people have more time to shop,” she says.

And yet, some consumers looking for the biggest discounts may have to wait until the actual Black Friday, according to Musgrove.

READ MORE: COVID-19 outbreak declared at Canada Post plant in Calgary

Retailers have told RedFlagDeals the deals they’re pushing now have the best prices consumers will find until Black Friday. But, Musgrove notes, “they’re not saying that Black Friday itself won’t have lower prices.”

Still, if you’re fretting about delivery hold-ups and are eager to maximize your Black Friday savings, Musgrove suggests a hybrid approach.

It’s a good idea to shop early for the cheaper items on your list, she says. After all, a five per cent vs. 25 per cent discount on, say, a sweater won’t make a drastic difference to your bottom line.

But if you’re in the market for big-ticket items like a new TV, Musgrove says it may be worth holding out for day-of Black Friday sales. And to avoid delays, opt for curbside pickup instead of delivery, she says.

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