The coronavirus pandemic is making the 2020 holiday shopping season look quite different than previous years.

The doorbuster sales that caused shoppers to get in line before dawn on Black Friday to take advantage of deep discounts aren’t happening. This year, retailers are offering sales that go on for weeks, instead of hours, so customers can avoid big crowds.

Online shopping is expected to be more popular than ever, as customers avoid crowded stores entirely and get gifts delivered at home. For people who want to order online and still go to the local mall, retailers are expanding contactless curbside pickup services.

And during his visit to the mall, Santa Claus will wear a mask and limit contact with boys and girls to help prevent the spread of the virus.

“It’s going to be different here this year,” said Gene Satern, senior general manager for the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. “There’s still a pandemic out there and people are still hesitant to go into other areas.”

Satern wouldn’t predict how holiday sales will compare to 2019 numbers. The shopping center is still operating under restrictions that have cut its capacity to 75% of what would normally be allowed. Because of all the sterilizing and cleaning that’s being done daily, the Mall of Louisiana will have shorter hours this year than in the past. In 2019, the mall was open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Black Friday. This year, the hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The shopping center is even closed for Thanksgiving this year as are a number of retailers.

“We’re not going to be nearly as aggressive as in the past with our hours,” he said. “Everybody is looking at their business models in a different way.”

Frank Quinn, general manager of The Outlet Collection at Riverwalk in New Orleans, said while the shopping center has posted increased sales every holiday season since it reopened in 2014, he’s not expecting to top 2019’s numbers. Tourists, especially those representing the convention and cruise markets, make up about half of the shoppers at the outlet mall.

“From a local standpoint, we’re seeing increases in customer traffic and sales. We’re thrilled to see that,” Quinn said. “We think we’re doing the best with the situation we are in and we are fortunate to have maintained as much sales as we have.”

Ebony Robert, who owns Ebony’s Beauty Hair and Skin Care, said she’s not sure what the holiday season will bring for her Lafayette business.

“It’s really unknown right now, with everything going on,” said Robert, who has operated a store in Northgate Mall for two years. “It’s possible we might have another shutdown. I just have my fingers crossed, and I’m saying lots of prayers.”

Robert said about 85% of the sales of her handmade skin and hair care products come online from Amazon and Walmart. She’s expecting those numbers to be even better this holiday season because some people don’t want to go out to stores right now.

To boost sales at her retail store on Black Friday, Robert is doing a vendor event with other small businesses that day, where they will set up booths inside her store.

“We’re hoping for a good holiday season; it’s been a rough year,” she said.

To keep visitors coming to the outlet mall this holiday season, the Riverwalk is offering free validated parking. That’s offsetting the fact the center isn’t doing some of its typical seasonal promotions, like its free “Movies on the Mississippi” at Spanish Plaza.

Quinn also hopes shoppers come out for the deep discounts retailers are going to offer, as a way of getting rid of inventory and salvaging a disappointing year.

“The discounts are going to get deeper,” he said. “It’s the last chance for stores to reduce their shortfall for this year.”

Holiday spending is expected to decrease this year amid limited travel and incomes during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey released earlier this month by the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte.

The average household is projected to spend $1,387, a 7% decrease year-over-year, according to the survey, which recorded answers from over 4,000 people in the U.S.

Retail experts said they estimated travel would come down significantly this holiday season as millions of people worried about the possibility of contracting or transmitting the coronavirus.

On average, the survey found, households could spend $260 on travel, a decrease of 34% year-over-year.

As a result, according to a podcast released earlier this month from Deloitte, gift spending could increase to make up for not being able to see friends or relatives. An online survey of 927 Louisiana residents done in late October by What If Media Group found that 29.6% of respondents said they plan on spending more money this holiday season than they did in 2019. That was the second-highest ranking from any state in the national survey, behind only Alaska, which came in at 32.5%.  

U.S. online holiday sales are expected to shatter previous records. Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, predicts a total of $189 billion in online holiday sales, a 33% increase compared to last year. That’s equal to two years worth of holiday e-commerce sales growth shoved into one season.

The practice of buying online and picking up in-person is likely to remain popular, as will contactless pickup, analysts said. Adept retailers will offer contactless returns as well.

Hilary Wetmore, a regional marketing manager for Kendra Scott, which has stores in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Metairie, said the jewelry chain has pivoted to more online events during the pandemic. Some stores have even done one-on-one FaceTime and Zoom appointments with customers, who want to see how a necklace or earrings look on a live model.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap and keep a human connection,” she said.

To help shoppers who may be waiting in socially distanced lines outside Kendra Scott on Black Friday, the chain is planning to have live entertainment at some locations, possibly in the form of DJs. “We’re expecting a long, steady stream of traffic and not one big sale weekend,” Wetmore said. “We’re extending the window of sales so people don’t all jam in the shop at once.”

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Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.