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Slimmer Black Friday crowds as pandemic impacts holiday shopping

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Black Friday didn't open with the bang it usually does, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Madison's West Towne Mall, there was a good number of shoppers -- but more typical of a regular Saturday rather than a Black Friday.

Michelle Cyr was out shopping with her sister.

"Black Friday has always been a big deal," she said. "It's still nerve wracking to think about -- anybody could come out with COVID or not. But it's not a big deal to me."

Cyr said that the smaller crowds at the mall made her feel more comfortable and confident shopping Friday.

"It seems like just a normal every other day," she said. "I know some of the stores have... a limit on customers in the store, and there were a couple people waiting outside, but there weren't the droves of people you'd expect for Black Friday."

UW-Madison consumer finance professor Cliff Robb wasn't expecting large crowds at all.

"Things like Black Friday and all that stuff just don't matter any more," he said.

Robb said many retailers started their sales online weeks ago. Despite the pandemic putting a huge strain on peoples' financial situations, Robb says people aren't spending less this year.

"Surprisingly, I don't think spending will be that far off," he said.

Robb says what people buy may change this year, however -- like more items for comfort around the home -- as well as when and how they're buying those things.

"We've seen massive growth obviously in online marketing of sales and contactless methods of sales, because that's been in higher demand," he said.

Less foot-traffic in stores may give the illusion that sales are down, but Robb says that's not the case -- as people are desperate for the holidays to go on.

"They're eager to create a feeling of normalcy as much as possible in these times," he said.

For people like Cyr who are still showing up in person, there's a hopeful attitude, as well.

"I got some stuff done here, and maybe next weekend I'll do the same," she said.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

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