Commentary: Black Friday…All Month Long!

When you think of "Black Friday," you think of overnight encampments to get the latest and greatest goods at its lowest prices ever. You also think of the chaos when the doors to certain stores open. 

Not this year.

Of course, we can repeat the statement about how strange this year had become thanks to an unwanted virus that have already taken the lives of over 250,000 Americans so far. This health crisis not only forced us to become creative about our stay-at-home Thanksgiving plans. It also altered our annual holiday shopping routines. 

This year, Black Friday is not contained on the day after our Thanksgiving feast. It is now all November long. 

This is not just a marketing ploy instituted across the retail business. It has been adopted by the automotive industry to move their vehicles. 

That’s great and all, but where are the deals? And, who’s buying?

Up until this month, automotive sales began to recover from the dramatic drops we saw in March and April. However, a second set of lockdowns have taken hold across parts of this country, as COVID-19 cases have jumped to dangerously high numbers. Some have said that this could affect sales in November and December to close out the year.

There was a rumor that a few states would curtail all automotive sales during their second lockdown. Other states have returned back to the status of the original lockdowns where customers cannot visit showrooms. Yet, they can take their vehicle in for service. 

Keep in mind that you can still buy or lease a vehicle. Most new car dealers have home delivery available with the ability to do the transaction on the spot. And, yes, you can have the dealership or repair shop pick up your vehicle, take it in for servicing, keep you informed of what’s going on, then return the vehicle back to you clean and disinfected. 

These practices are definitely safer. Are customers taking advantage of these enhanced services?

The answer is "yes." A few dealer contacts told me that about half of their customers were taking advantage of these at-home transactions. Half? The other half were doing it the old fashioned way. However, customers must be mindful of the signage at the door. Do not come into a showroom or service bay without a mask on your face, making sure you’re six feet away from anyone, and when another sign say you have to call for appointment while you’re looking at the vehicle you want to take home. 

Another thing to contend with is the inventory levels of your local dealership. If your dealer is selling new cars, good luck trying to find one of the new models being promoted across social media. The assembly plants have been ramping up, however some had to shut down due to safety protocols as someone tested positive for the virus. 

Let me stop here and rant a bit. On social media, I remarked how the word "positive" could no longer mean "good" during these pandemic times. It reminded me of the days in the late 1980s and early 1990s of another virus that was killing people without mercy. If you know which one that was, now you understand part of my pandemic fatigue. This time, COVID-19 is affecting everyone, not just a few specific populations. 

Back to dealer inventories, there was one time this year where used vehicle inventories were very low. Thanks to a swath of rental car returns from companies losing business due to the lack of travel business and lease returns, there appears to be a glut of used cars on dealer lots. 

Perhaps, maybe. On a survey of several dealerships across the Twin Cities and in other nearby areas, this appears to be the case. There’s plenty of used cars on these lots, but how are they moving? 

Still, if someone wanted the new 2021 Nissan Rogue or Hyundai Elantra – good luck finding one. If you do, I’ll bet you it has a deposit on it from a customer who saw an ad on social media and plunked down a few hundred for one. 

As you waded through this jumbled mess of Black Friday deals, I hope you’re holiday shopping is going swimmingly. After all, you really want that new PlayStation PS5 really badly, don’t you?

Photo by Randy Stern

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