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COVID-19 Turning Black Friday into ‘Cyber November’

Holiday shopping has always brought the year’s best deals — along with plenty of new cyberthreats. This year will bring plenty of both, starting earlier than ever, as work and home life merge.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash
Move over Black Friday and Cyber Monday, because our global pandemic is changing our new normal — again. In 2020, holiday shopping is more virtual than ever, with deals coming earlier in November.

While experts are predicting more online shopping than ever before between now and the end of the year, at the same time, the pandemic has driven more working from home and more cyberthreats in the public and private sectors.  

Black Friday and the Pandemic

Many companies are struggling with the question of how can they manage Black Friday during a pandemic. Here’s one answer from St. Bonaventure's student-run newspaper:

“COVID-19 has challenged in-store retailers across the nation by making them enforce social distancing, mask wearing and other sanitization procedures. However, retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy and Target are still planning on implementing sales for the Black Friday season.

Black Friday, the term given to the Friday after Thanksgiving, has a history of attracting large crowds of people because of the extreme sales. According to the National Retail Federation, about 189.6 million people nationwide went shopping over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend last year, a 14 percent increase from 2018.

Although stores have been promoting people to shop Cyber Monday online sales, retailers are strategizing how to meet the needs of Black Friday crowds while meeting COVID-19 guidelines.”

Here is another perspective from the website entitled "Better vs. Bigger: Examining the Future of Black Friday":

“Like many things in 2020, the holiday shopping season will be unlike any in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many of our social norms upside down and accelerated emerging trends, exacerbating weaknesses already evident in retail. With the bar now higher than ever before, retailers need a seamlessly integrated omnichannel offering just to survive, and must remain agile in the face of ongoing uncertainty.”

Another even bolder perspective comes from in this piece: "Digital Shift, COVID Fears Push Black Friday To Brink Of Irrelevance":

“A summer headline from The Philadelphia Tribune declared: 'Black Friday as we know it is finally dead.' And while the descriptor 'dead' may be a bit strong just yet, Black Friday as an in-store foot-traffic generator is on life support.

As Scott Rankin, principal and national consumer and retail strategy leader with KPMG US, told the Tribune, ‘With everything that's going on, there may be no Black Friday at all. I can't imagine retailers buying inventory to stock up for an event designed to pack hundreds of people into a store. There are so many risks to that,' he said. 'The only way Black Friday can be the annual shopping bonanza it has been for decades [is] if by some stroke of luck we have a vaccine and everyone gets it by Black Friday.’”

What’s the answer? Three weeks of Black Friday deals, according to many companies.

This piece predicts:

“The retail trends site, RetailMeNot, meantime, reports three in four people (or 75 percent of Americans) will be shopping online this season, with 31 percent of people shopping earlier, to avoid shipping delays or inventory issues. That has led many sites to get a head start on holiday sales in an effort to capture consumer demand.”

Sample Company Plans For Black Friday

According to CNN: Walmart’s Black Friday sale in 2020 looks very different than it has in previous years — as is to be expected in a year that has been so unique in countless other ways. For this holiday shopping season, Walmart has expanded its Black Friday sale to be not just one day, but three separate events held over two weeks leading up to the official day.” describes these Target Black Friday plans: “This year many retailers, including Target, are offering up their Black Friday deals way sooner than Nov. 27. Not only is Target rolling out their deals early, but they’ll actually offering new discounts every week throughout the month. Even better, Target is price matching products until Dec. 25.”

USA Today describes these Kohl’s Black Friday plans: “Like other retailers, Kohl's is breaking with tradition and closing stores on Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic. Kohl's will start its Black Friday Week sale on Nov. 22 and a 'Super Deals' sale will start online on Thanksgiving.”

Things You Need to Know About Black Friday in 2020

Meanwhile, CNET offers four things that we all should keep in mind about Black Friday this year. Here is the first of them:

“Avoid crowded areas and long lines in stores.

Do you really want to camp out or stand in lines for hours on end waiting for Best Buy to open? Of course not. By staying home, you can cozy up on your couch with a warm cup of tea and simply click Buy when it's time. No need to rush out to the stores, only to lose out on the $99 AirPods you've been waiting for.

Many stores realize people aren't willing to risk increasing their exposure to the coronavirus for a cheap TV, so they're putting their Black Friday deals online early. So far, we're seeing deals from Amazon, Walmart, Home Depot and Best Buy. We'll update the list as we hear about new deals from other stores.”

Other Unique Aspects for 2020

This article points out a few other important things to be aware of for this year:

  • Best deals will be in November
  • Shorter holiday shopping period after Thanksgiving (late Thanksgiving this year)
  • Shipping delays — they're inevitable
“Yes, every year, we see unfortunate shipping delays hinder the well-intentioned gift-giving plans of empty-handed consumers. But Cyber Monday 2020 feels different.

Today's package delivery companies (and Santa) have never met a global pandemic of this scale before, and that's going to put a lot of pressure on parcel services. 

It's one reason Walmart Black Friday deals may be happening over the course of three weeks in November. Ideas like that really space out the shipping allotments, and, presumably, the biggest sales will conclude on Cyber Monday.”

This infographic offers good advice to organizations who are putting up social media and Web content for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Security Tips Online

As I remind readers every year, when the buyers come out, so do the scams.

Last year, I offered these tips on how to safely shop online this holiday season. Here’s an excerpt from State Farm:

  • Stick to retailers you know and, preferably, have shopped with before.
  • Research a business you haven’t purchased from before by checking customer reviews or complaints with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Never commit to a deal that seems too good to be true.
  • Refrain from using public Wi-Fi to make purchases, or use a VPN to avoid hackers intercepting your information.
  • Check a webpage’s security by looking for the lock icon in the URL field, and making sure the URL starts with “https”, not just “http.” The “s” means the site is safer and more secure.

Final Thoughts

I often get asked: Why do I cover Black Friday and Cyber Monday every year, in a government technology blog?

Beyond the cybersecurity concerns that always come up every year at home and work regarding holiday shopping — with people shopping while on the job on public- and private-sector networks — 2020 brings more unique issues with so many people working from home during the pandemic. I expect to see even more gray areas between personal and professional lives online, and the separation is becoming almost indistinguishable for many.  

I also expect attention to shift from election security to shopping over the holiday season during the pandemic. But many people will choose to do all of their shopping online rather than risk the malls and the possibility of a COVID-19 infection.   


Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.