Pandemic casts shadow over Black Friday shopping season

By Dang Khoa, Long NguyenNovember 25, 2021 | 11:05 pm PT
Pandemic casts shadow over Black Friday shopping season
People walk in front of a clothing store in Vincom Center in HCMC's District 1, Nov. 25, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa
The financial hit from Covid-19 and fear of crowded places have dampened the enthusiasm for shopping, leaving stores empty amid the shopping season.

One day before Black Friday, there were no lines of customers outside department stores, people sprinting into stores to buy heavily discounted items or retailers disgorging large number of shoppers with their purchases.

Thu Nhi of HCMC's District 4 said: "I first picked out five, but only bought the one I liked the most because I cannot afford all of them. Saving is still a top priority now."

Black Friday used to be the busiest shopping day of the year with consumers elbowing their way through to find the best deals.

But this year retailers have had to be content with window shoppers.

Thu Thao, an employee at a clothing store at Vincom Center, said from behind her two masks: "We were hoping to see our store packed with streams of shoppers waiting to gobble up discounts and sales. I think Black Friday lost its magic amid the pandemic.

"Most customers just check out products and their price tags and place them back."

Inside the store, notices of 50-70 percent discounts on many famous brands can be seen, but there are not many people inside.

Though many retail stores have been offering early Black Friday promotions with deep discounts and ‘doorbuster’ deals, shoppers have been keeping away.

Instead of the normal one-day Black Friday, which this year falls on Nov. 26, many shops and businesses have turned it into a weeks-long event from Nov. 19 to the end of the month.

In Hanoi, shops on Chua Boc and Cau Giay streets and malls put up their promotion banners days ago, but things remained quiet a day before Black Friday.

"I am surprised because many famous brands are offering discounts but the stores are deserted," Nguyen Minh Hang of Long Bien District, who was shopping at Aeon Mall on Thursday morning, said.

Nguyen Huong, owner of a clothing store on Trang Thi Street, said the week before Black Friday is usually crowded.

"Unlike in previous years I even allow people to exchange or return discounted items to attract more customers". She said she had spent VND5 million ($220) to run advertisements on Facebook this month.

Le Huu Nghia, vice chairman of the HCMC Union of Business Associations, was quoted by Vietnamnet as saying this year people have ignored the sale season.

Shoppers inside Vicom Center department store in HCMCs District 1 on Nov. 25, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

Black Friday promotional poster in front of a store in Vincom Center, HCMC, Nov. 25, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Dang Khoa

Change in consumer behavior

In the two years since the pandemic began, there have been widespread job and wage cuts, leading to a sharp decrease in disposable incomes and spending.

Economists have said the Covid crisis has forced people to change their spending habits.

"After months of social distancing, consumers are tending to shop in a more cautious way and think about what is really necessary," Dr Pham Khanh Nam, dean of the economics department at the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, said.

The average monthly income in the third quarter of this year fell by VND877,000 from the previous quarter and VND603,000 from a year earlier to VND5.2 million, according to the General Statistics Office.

As their disposable income decreases and fear of the pandemic increases, people are cutting down on spending and focusing on saving.

Data from the Statistic Office of Ho Chi Minh City shows that retail sales of goods were down 40.5 percent year-on-year in October to VND30 trillion ($1.32 million).

Food sales fell by 18 percent, and sales of household appliances, tools and equipment by 44 percent.

Phan Tran Hoang Minh, who earns a monthly income of VND12 million, said on pay day he sets aside a certain amount and "avoids touching it".

He has been carefully monitoring his spending and only buying necessary items, he said.

"In the past I used to hunt for the latest tech gadgets that were on sale during Black Friday. But I don't plan on buying anything this year since I want to save some money to go back to my hometown in Bac Lieu Province this Tet (Lunar New Year )".

In a survey published earlier this month by local market research firm Q&Me, 64 percent of 650 respondents said they are concerned about their financial status for the Lunar New Year around three months from now.

Another reason why consumers are not excited about Black Friday is that promotions and heavy discounts are no longer rare since e-commerce platforms have promotions throughout the year.

Kieu Duyen of HCMC's District 7 said: "I recently bought some appliances, cosmetics and a few other items online on Nov. 11. So I don't plan to buy anything else on Black Friday."

Fears of contracting Covid are also keeping people at home, people who might otherwise be checking out malls and stores.

"Closed places with air-conditioners like malls could be a hotbed of the coronavirus, so I would rather stay at home than risk my health for cheap clothes," Nguyen Ngan Giang of HCMC’s District 1 said.

In the fourth wave of Covid which hit Vietnam seven months ago, more than 1.16 million people have been infected. Of them, 942,888 have recovered.

Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long has warned that winter, including the Lunar New Year period in early February, could see new outbreaks if people let their guard down.

Even for many shopaholics, saving money is a top priority right now since they realize another Covid outbreak could put a huge dent in their wallets.

"I hope the pandemic is contained next year, the economy recovers and I have money for next year’s Black Friday," Nhi said while strolling around the mall.

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