It’s been a long year. The challenges that every Mainer has faced this year are significant, and sadly, we are not yet through the pandemic. As the calendar turns to October, and the weather continues to cool, winter and the holidays are not far behind.

In most years, the holiday shopping season ramps up in November with some retailers kicking off “early bird” sales, and then it really shifts into high gear with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. However, this year, the holiday shopping season is starting earlier and likely going to be much different for both retailers and customers. Retailers normally try all kinds of promotions to try to drive crowds into stores, and current protocols require the exact opposite: limiting the number of customers in stores, and keeping socially distant.

At this point, Maine continues to keep our case numbers low and we are hopeful that we can continue on the same track, but we know that is no guarantee. However, we wanted to offer some helpful tips to both retailers and consumers with ways to help keep the holiday shopping season safe and vibrant.

First, patience and planning ahead are critical. Retailers of all sizes will be rolling out promotions and sales earlier than ever and throughout the season as a way to spread out the typical holiday crowds. Don’t be a last-minute shopper this year!

Retailers want to serve you safely and efficiently, either in-person or online. The pandemic forced all retailers to change their business model to enable curbside pickup and improved e-commerce. Buying online and picking up in store have continued to grow in popularity and will be a critical component this holiday season. While online-only retailers will continue to play a significant role, we’ve continued to see the importance of shopping locally increase as well. Consumers understand that the locally owned retailers are the first ones to sponsor the youth sports league, donate gift cards and support local events. This year, it is more critical than ever to help support the businesses in your community. Additionally, shopping locally can help avoid the stress of shipping delays and rush-order surcharges.

Consider shopping on less-busy days. Currently, retailers are limited to five customers per 1,000 square feet of space. Those limits will likely pose a challenge during some peak shopping times. If you are able, consider doing some of your shopping midweek, when crowds are smaller, or consider ordering the item online but picking it up in store. Although some retailers will bemoan the loss of impulse buying with online ordering, the reality is that customers appreciate businesses that are taking their safety seriously.

Marden’s reminds us that you “should have bought it when you saw it.” This year, it’s good advice regardless of where you are shopping. Although not widespread, there will likely be limited stock of certain items for two reasons. Much of purchasing of holiday inventory takes place during the summer, and some retailers were very cautious with what they were buying given a very uncertain economy. On the manufacturing side, the disruption of the pandemic continues to affect the supply chain on some goods. Some raw materials were in limited supply, and some manufacturers were either shut down or could not keep up with increased demand. So, if you see an item you really want, it’s probably a good idea to grab it while it’s still in stock.

In June, we partnered with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association to launch our “Let’s Be Kind” campaign to help people show a little patience as businesses were learning how to reopen safely. Holidays are always stressful, and this year will likely be even more stressful. The message is still important today: Plan Ahead, Wear Your Mask and Be Kind.

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