As the holiday season approaches, stores across the country are preparing for a month of increased commercial demand while also navigating public health concerns. For many local retailers, the COVID-19 pandemic shaped their customer engagement and operations in this year’s Black Friday sales. The Herald spoke with three Providence retailers to discuss how the pandemic influenced their stores during Black Friday.
Ryan Demagistris, store manager at Sneaker Junkies on Thayer Street, said that the store experienced a “decent turnout” this year, but overall Black Friday sales for the store were lower this year than they were prior to the pandemic.
“I’d definitely say Black Friday was good,” Demagistris said. “Not as busy as the previous years, but definitely good.”
Trey Digioia, brick specialist at The LEGO Store in Providence Place, noted that The LEGO Store actually spreads its sales over the course of two weeks, which lowers overall revenue made in the store on Black Friday.
“Our store doesn’t do an insane amount of Black Friday deals, and we actually offered more” sales leading up to Black Friday, Digioia explained. “It was busier the week before Black Friday than it was on actual Black Friday.”
Across the country, revenue from Black Friday sales has decreased in recent years, influenced by the expansion of major sales in many retail stores to various dates throughout the year.
For some stores, demand on Black Friday has remained high throughout the pandemic despite public health concerns. Demagistris said that Sneaker Junkies also had in-person Black Friday sales last year, and that the store had high levels of customer turnout both this and last year despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, “people still came out (on Black Friday) … regardless of restrictions and everything,” Demagistris explained. “People definitely came out.”
But Digioia said that at The LEGO Store, public health guidelines have limited how many customers visit each day.
“We keep our store at a capacity of no more than 25 people,” Digioia explained, making the “line outside the store … a little longer than normal” on Black Friday. The wait time to get into the store itself makes some customers less likely to shop at The LEGO Store, Digioia added.
“I’m hoping that by next year we don’t have to keep our store at capacity anymore,” Digioia said. “I know for a fact that there are some customers who aren’t willing to wait in line,” instead passing it by in favor of stores without capacities or with smaller lines.
Jessica Ford, store manager at Urban Outfitters on Thayer Street, noted that the store’s sales were higher on Black Friday this year compared to last.
Ford said purchases from local college students played a big role in boosting Urban Outfitters’ sales this year. Ford accredited this growth to having more students from local colleges living on their respective campuses this semester, compared to the fall 2020 semester when schools including Brown implemented protocols that reduced on-campus student population density.
Demagistris noted that, unlike Urban Outfitters, Sneaker Junkies does not usually see many college students shopping at the store during Black Friday, so the increase in college students living on campus at Brown and other Providence colleges did not significantly affect the store’s Black Friday sales.
During Thanksgiving break, “college kids go home for the weekend, so you don’t see as much college presence,” Demagistris explained.
Instead, Demagistris noted the store’s primary clientele during Black Friday come from local families. “We see a lot of families coming out shopping for Christmas and their kids,” Demagistris said.
Ford explained that the positive growth in the store’s sales this year was seen in its conversion — the percentage of visitors to a store who make a purchase. This year, the store’s conversion was higher than it was last year, indicating positive growth in customer engagement.
“We did really good this Black Friday,” Ford said. “Students were really excited to be out and shopping.”