TAMPA, Fla. — Because of the pandemic, retail experts tell us shoppers will have a very different experience shopping online this holiday season.
We saw a lot of ads for Black Friday deals starting at the beginning of November. With more shoppers browsing online for deals, retailers worked to pivot online to keep customers happy and quickly deliver their items.
"We'll see a lot of things during this time we probably haven't seen in the past," Dr. Kelly Cowart, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of South Florida, said. "We'll see things can be sold at lower prices. They do have availability. Yes, you can deliver that to my house. We can sit back now, and the ball is in our court. For example, if I want to purchase a TV and it's a big one, I had to figure out how I am going to get it home, and now the expectation is it is going to be sent to my home, so that's a plus."
Cowart said shoppers need to remember that shopping this year will be like no other year.
"I think that all bets are off," Cowart said. "This year, I am seeing pretty good deals. There's always going to be another sale."
Because of the pandemic, many small businesses already started the transition to online sales.
The owner of Hazel and Dot in South Tampa said they are preparing for the Cyber Monday rush and offer deals throughout the holiday shopping season.
"We are planning to do a lot of shipping, so we plan on keeping our mailman very busy," Allison Bernardi said.
Bernardi is also using Instagram to tap into a new revenue stream she didn't really use before. Customers might order an item through Instagram or come into the store to see what else Bernardi sells and buy other things they didn't see online.
"We have a lot of customers who have become regular customers who might normally visit family here or come here for work who have started interacting with us online through Instagram," Bernardi said. "I think people are just ready to get their shopping done to get ready for the holidays, and we are here to help them with that."
Bernardi will also FaceTime customers who don't want to shop in-store or text photos of items to people looking to make a purchase. And, when you shop with Bernardi, you aren't just supporting her.
"About 85% of what we carry in the store is made locally or made by small businesses in the U.S.," Bernardi said. "We buy the items from them. We buy them; then we resell them, so that's another form of income for them."
The shift to online sales and social media is also creating the perfect conditions for scammers.
The estimated sales for Cyber Monday are $12.7 billion. With higher sales, there is more potential for people who rarely shopped online before to be scammed.
"It's like a game of whack a mole. They can create a website, sell a bunch of products, not deliver the products, shut that website down and create a new one," Bryan Oglesby, the Director of Public Relations for the Better Business Bureau serving West Florida said. "You know scammers are good at their game. You would think certain people fall victim to scams but what our studies show is that anyone and everyone can be victimized by a scam."
Fake websites, spoof phone numbers, phishing emails and mock ads directing you to a website that looks similar to the real deal are all tools criminals use to dupe online shoppers.
Oglesby said customers should always do their homework before hitting the purchase button.
Oglesby urges shoppers to check out the BBB website to verify a business, you can look up websites at whois.com, and the website fraudfreeflorida are all great resources.
Oglesby said shopping through social media can carry more risks this year if you aren't familiar with the seller.
"We are seeing an influx of scam oriented websites coming from social media posts," Oglesby said." Shopping through social media, you really have to have your guard up. It could be a high-risk situation when you see an ad on social media you really want to vet that company.
Cowart said she is getting her shopping done early. Her field is marketing, but she urges customers to find a good deal and focus on what matters most this holiday season.
"COVID has been hard. It's been hard for a lot of us. It forced us to slow down and look at what's important. Buying things for the ones we love is important, but the most important thing is to sit back and love on them and hug on them and cherish the time we have that's the takeaway for me going forward," Cowart said.