Black Friday is almost here. And shoppers are more anxious than ever.

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A shopper uses his phone while wearing a face mask due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic outside the Christiana Mall in Newark, Delaware U.S. November 19, 2020.

Mark Makela | Reuters

Black Friday is almost here. And consumers’ anxiety about shopping in stores and enclosed malls is only escalating, as Covid-19 cases surge across the country, making for a holiday season where far fewer people pitch tents in parking lots to snag doorbuster deals.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers said they’re anxious about shopping in stores over the holidays because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a poll released Monday by Deloitte, which surveyed 1,200 adults from Oct. 9 to Nov. 2. That’s up from 51% in September, when Deloitte last asked the same question.

“My guess is that percentage is probably even higher now,” said Rod Sides, vice chairman and U.S. retail, wholesale and distribution leader at Deloitte. The pandemic is “driving folks online and changing behavior,” he said.

On Nov. 3, the U.S. new daily Covid-19 infections crossed the 100,000-mark, and the numbers have continued to climb ever since. Deaths are also spiking, reaching daily levels not seen since May. The trends are especially worrisome heading into the holidays, when families tend to gather and partake in activities together like going to the mall on Black Friday. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Americans to travel for the holiday.

It seems many are heeding public health official warnings. For the first time in the history of Deloitte’s pre-Thanksgiving survey, more consumers (61%) are planning to shop online on Black Friday than in stores (54%).

And 61% of people said they are either “unsure” or “have no plans” to shop with family and friends the week of Thanksgiving, compared with 48% who said the same thing a year ago.

“We’re not going to have a meaningful vaccine rollout, even with the great news this week, in time to have people feel comfortable from a holiday perspective,” Sides said. “So I think this one is going to turn out to be predominantly online.”

Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette acknowledged that fact last week, telling analysts during a conference call: “We’re definitely expecting that we’re going to bring down the traffic in brick-and-mortar on Black Friday itself and getting that demand earlier.”

Retailers including Macy’s, Walmart, Target and Dick’s Sporting Goods have been touting Black Friday-esque deals far in advance of the Friday after Thanksgiving, hoping to pull shopper demand forward and avoid crowded shops. But they might not need to even worry about crowded stores, if shoppers’ nerves remain high. Their websites and warehouse, though, better be ready.

Nearly one-third of people are planning to shop for fewer days altogether this holiday season, with concerns about Covid cited as the main reason, at 63%, according to Deloitte’s poll. And 74% plan to shop online, not in stores, during the week of Thanksgiving to avoid crowds, up from the 62% of people who said the same thing a year earlier.

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