Laura Bullock got a head start on buying Christmas gifts, the same pattern she follows every year.
“I just enjoy going out with my girls and shopping,” she said sitting in a crowded food court at Coastal Grand Mall in Myrtle Beach Friday after trips to a local Walmart and Tanger Outlets mall.
The Longs woman was one of the shoppers seeking savings at brick-and-mortar retail stores along the Grand Strand on a Black Friday perhaps not as busy as years past amid COVID-19.
Still, many flocked to big box stores and other establishments, including Chris Mitchell from Minnesota, who bought a TV and Wi-Fi extender from Best Buy for his oceanfront condo in Myrtle Beach.
Not only have shops along the Grand Strand offered discounts, but so have area resorts and attractions. The State Park Service even announced that admission at all state parks in South Carolina would be free Friday as part of #OptOutside initiative that urges people to spend time outside the day following Thanksgiving.
Just like other businesses, Coastal Grand Mall initiated different measures to help keep workers and shoppers safe as it prepared for Black Friday and the holidays, according to Marketing Director Jessica Kirkman.
“We have limited and spread out seating in our food court, installed numerous hand sanitizers throughout the center, increased the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of all high-traffic common areas, as well as implemented applicable guidelines set forth by local officials and/or health departments,” she said in an email.
“Individual retailers have also implemented several of these practices inside their stores as well as set capacity limits to assure proper social distancing.
“We ask that the public exercise good judgment when visiting the property; including following CDC guidelines for social distancing, hygiene practices, and wearing a mask or face covering. During mall hours, members of our security team will also be walking around with available masks to offer shoppers who do not have any.”
For Bullock, things seemed different this year.
Aside from the mask-wearing and constant hand sanitizer usage, she noticed what appeared to be smaller crowds.
“Lines are not as long,” she said.
And Mitchell said Best Buy appeared much busier than other stores, including a local Target he visited, where “it was almost a regular day.”
Many choosing to shop online could be why.
Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) showed that 43% of holiday shoppers surveyed planned to wait until November to start purchasing for the holidays with 59% stating they planned shop online instead this year, according to a news release from the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR).
“The NRF and national chains are encouraging shoppers to shop safely and early this holiday season,” the release said. “Because of concerns generated by the pandemic, marketing firms are predicting ‘exploding’ online holiday sales and decreased in-store purchases.”
The SCDOR cited a Forbes article saying that Deloitte, a national accounting firm, expects growth of online holiday retail sales between 25% to 35% from November through January, coming to a total of $182 billion to $196 billion.
Despite the pandemic, Mitchell said he felt comfortable shopping Friday amongst the throngs of folks.
“I’m used to it at this point,” he said. “With the mask on, it doesn’t worry me as much.”