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Enticing Black Friday shoppers while managing crowds during the pandemic

Retailers prepare to face a Black Friday challenge
Posted at 10:19 AM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 18:00:37-05

COLUMBIA, Md. — Black Friday bargain hunters are used to shopping jam-packed malls to catch the best deals, but long lines and large crowds won't be part of the experience this year.

The Mall in Columbia senior general manager Barb Nicklas said “for Black Friday in 2020, we do have a government mandate to keep our capacity at 50 percent. We have live traffic trackers, that I can tell at any time how many people are within the interior of the mall.”

Nicklas explained covid safety protocols begin the moment shoppers step into the mall with doors marked to control the direction of foot traffic.

“We have 31 hand sanitizers throughout the center, including at every entrance. We have social distancing measures and communications throughout the mall,” Nicklas said.

The pandemic changed the way people shop. One service developed during the emergency shutdown in the spring will continue to be used throughout the holiday season.

“Many of the stores that were not open, actually were serving their customers via the curbside pickup. Once we reopened, they continued to do that, and that is a very popular option with our customers for the holiday season, we are going to be expanding to three curbside areas,” Nicklas said.

It helps retailers maintain sales and allows customers to keep their social distance.

“You can order online. You can call the store. Once you come and you park in a space, you then call the store, and you give the number of your space, and the employees from the store will bring your purchase out to your car,” Nicklas said.

It's not the only way shoppers can skip the lines, stay safe, and avoid a crowd.

“We have recently launched something that we call Spot Holder. This is a reservation and queuing technology that allows our shoppers to put themselves on a waitlist to get inside a store, rather than stand in line,” Nicklas said.

Retailers looking to turn a profit and shoppers looking for deals aren't the only ones counting on ringing up sales this Black Friday.

“We employ nearly 4100 people from the community, that are in our retail stores, our vendors, and our contractors. Additionally, we support our schools, Columbia, the county, and the State of Maryland with annual taxes of nearly $50 million from our sales tax, our payroll tax, and our real estate tax,” Nicklas said.

With several protocols in place, retailers are ready to welcome Black Friday shoppers.

“We will open our doors at 7 o'clock, and we are very much looking forward to offering much of the same kind of wonderful experiences that we've offered in the past, but in a safe and healthy environment,” Nicklas said.

Getting a picture taken with Santa is a memorable moment for parents and their kids.

Pictures taken this holiday season won't look like the ones from Christmas pasts because presently the world is still in a pandemic.

At the Mall in Columbia, the photo company's policy states both Santa and those getting their photos taken with Santa will be required to wear face coverings as per the governor's mandate.

Kids will still get to see Santa in-person and get their picture taken but they won't be sitting on Santa's lap.

“We've modified our Santa set, to add a social distancing measure. So, the children and the families will be seated about six feet away from Santa,” Nicklas said.

“We have created a series of seats that look like a gift box and the families and kids will be sitting on those gift boxes, six to eight feet from Santa,” Nicklas added.

Reservations aren't required but they are encouraged to see Santa. Families can go online and reserve a spot. walk up visits will be accepted if spaces are available.

For those who can't make it to the Mall in Columbia, the mall also offers virtual visits to the North Pole as well.