Stores are reducing Black Friday sales hours this year but experts says that could actually make shopping less safe

  • Walmart, Best Buy, and other big retailers are closing on Thanksgiving and cutting Black Friday hours.
  • Some experts said that this could actually make shopping more dangerous if it increases crowding in stores.
  • They agreed that limiting the number of people in stores is the most important factor.
  • Stores like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy are taking measures to control crowds in stores including limiting the number of people in stores and opening early on Black Friday.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The usual Black Friday experience of long lines on Thanksgiving and 3 a.m. store openings is sure to look different this year, as retailers roll out safety measures in-stores and move many sales online.

Most stores that historically begin Black Friday deals on Thanksgiving will remain closed on the holiday, opening early Friday morning instead. Walmart, Target, and Best Buy have all reduced Black Friday sales hours in stores compared to previous years, instead moving many deals online and spreading them through November, with increased options for curbside pickup and online orders.

Reducing store hours on Black Friday could actually make the shopping holiday more dangerous if it increases crowding,Stephen Kissler, an infectious disease researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Business Insider.

“It could backfire, and more people might show up at once,” he said.

Read more: Home Depot and Lowe’s are standout winners of the pandemic — but experts are already focused on what a COVID-19 vaccine will mean for home improvement sales in 2021

Even with precautions, the CDC classifies Black Friday shopping as a “higher risk” activity. Counterintuitively, it “might be better to expand store hours so people can come at different times,” Kissler said, though more hours can also increase the risk to retail workers.

Kissler emphasised that the most important precaution is avoiding “super spreading events,” which happen when one infected person infects many others. Limiting the number of people allowed in a store at one time is key to preventing those events.

Dr. Stanley Perlman a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, agreed with Kissler that limiting store hours “may not be helpful” if other rules like social distancing and mask-wearing aren’t followed.

“Most important is making sure that the rules are followed and that the stores are well ventilated,” he told Business Insider in an email.

Stores have put some plans in place to try and moderate the potential for infection. Walmart said it will limit store capacity to 20%, and “health ambassadors” will remind shoppers to wear masks and pass out sanitised carts.

A Walmart spokesperson also told Business Insider that on Black Friday, “we are opening our stores earlier, at 5 a.m. local time, and we’ve recently extended our closing time to 11 p.m. local time.”

“By spreading deals out across multiple days and making our hottest deals available online, we expect the Black Friday experience in our stores will be safer and more manageable for both our customers and our associates,” Walmart Executive Vice President Scott McCall said in a statement.

Target doubled parking spots for contactless pickup and created a tool to let customers check if their store has a line before they arrive, and Best Buy is also limiting customers allowed inside and using floor markings to encourage social distancing.

For people who do plan on shopping in stores on Black Friday, Kessler and Perlman both said that wearing masks and avoiding big crowds are the most important precautions, along with frequent hand washing and using hand sanitizer.

“Indoor shopping is a midlevel risk. You interact with people you wouldn’t normally see, but interactions are brief and masked,” Kessler said. He suggests going solo when in-person shopping is unavoidable and trying to avoid the most crowded times.

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