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Queuing for a Playstation during a corona peak

Every Black Friday, the videos go viral on social media again: insanely long lines, jostling at store shelves and, in the most extreme cases, fighting customers – both want to get their hands on that discounted television set. In short: busy. And that is precisely what makes the timing of the bargain festivities that have blown over from America to the rest of the world so uncomfortable: it falls on the week that there are record numbers of positive corona tests in the Netherlands and on the day that a press conference is held about stricter measures. Is it justified that this usually busiest shopping day of the year continues?

“Many retail chains are opting for a different approach than usual this year,” says Eus Peters, director of the Dutch Retail Council (RND). “This edition is more sober, more restrained. Instead of betting on one day, you see that many retail chains spread their discounts over a longer period and that they are encouraged to order online as much as possible.”

Electronics chain MediaMarkt – which placed crowd barriers in 2019 to curb the crowds – has opted for such a strategy. “Since last week we have been opening an hour earlier, at eight instead of nine, so that customers can shop quietly in the morning. We also spread the promotions over a longer period and encourage customers to buy online,” said a spokesperson for the chain, which has 49 stores in the Netherlands.

Behind the scenes, most major chains have agreed to focus mainly on online, a HEMA spokesperson said. The retail chain – 500 locations in the Netherlands – does have special Black Friday discounts, but do not expect extreme crowds in the store, the spokeswoman said. That is why, in addition to the standard rules – shopping basket, mouth cap, distance – no special measures are taken. “We only ask our customers: make sure that our employees don’t have to become enforcers, we don’t help each other with that.”

It’s no good that Black Friday continues

Linda Vermeulen FNV

Some chains choose not to participate in Black Friday. For example, H&M and IKEA indicate that they are waiving it, for sustainability reasons, and shoe chain Scapino has announced that it will only offer online discounts on the day due to the current contamination figures. De Bijenkorf department store is also not organizing Black Friday this year, a spokesperson said.

Lockdown ahead

The question is whether consumers will want to pass up this day of shopping – with the prospect of a possible winter in lockdown. Only one in five Dutch respondents who plan Black Friday purchases indicate that they will only do so online, according to a survey published Thursday by consultancy firm Simon & Kucher.

But Eus Peters of RND does not expect extreme crowds. “Of course, a place like the Rotterdam Koopgoot is a bottleneck, there will be a lot of people there on Friday. But last year, on average, it was quieter on Black Friday in the major cities.” Figures from measurement agency RMC show that last year it was 18.5 percent busier in Rotterdam compared to the previous year. In Amsterdam there were 37.3 percent fewer visitors, and in The Hague the number of Black Friday shoppers fell by 43 percent. But even when things get busy, Peters isn’t worried. “Shops do not contribute to the spread of the virus,” said the RND director, “you never see them coming back in the top 20 of the RIVM.”

Trade union director Linda Vermeulen of FNV is less enthusiastic about this Black Friday – she calls the discount day “a celebration for the retail chains and shareholders”. Earlier this month, the FNV already called on the cabinet to cancel the day. “But there was no response to that. It makes no sense that Black Friday continues. On the one hand, the cabinet says to a very large group of Dutch people: work from home as much as possible. But to another group – the store and distribution employees – they de facto say: you get a lot of pressure on you.”

In recent weeks, Vermeulen has received dozens of complaints from store and distribution employees. About the hustle and bustle in which they work, and the risk that they run as a result of exposure to a corona infection, and about the long working days they make, sometimes up to twelve hours. “From H&M to Action.” Ordering online makes little difference to this group. “People think; if you order online it will be at your door by magic, but a lot of people have been put to work to make that possible for you.”

According to Vermeulen, the blame cannot be placed on the consumer – it is the chains that distribute advertising offers. “In recent weeks, people have been pushed to buy, buy, buy.”

Queuing for a Playstation during a corona peak
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