Military Retailers Prepare for a Coronavirus Black Friday with Curbside Pickup, Capacity Limits, Social Distancing

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, cannot be tamed by the coronavirus pandemic, even on U.S. military bases.

The post-Thanksgiving event, considered the start of holiday shopping, will go on, tempered by measures to mitigate the virus’ spread, a spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service told Stars and Stripes.

For example, shoppers may anticipate curbside delivery, appropriately distanced queues and ticket programs to manage demand for hot items.

“The Exchange’s focus remains on protecting the force,” AAFES spokesman Col. Scott Maskery said in an email to Stars and Stripes on Nov. 10.

The exchange, the retail store on U.S. military installations worldwide, this year held its first-ever “12 Weeks of Black Friday Savings” starting Labor Day to spread out its promotions and manage foot traffic, Maskery said.

On Friday, the stores may employ contactless options such as curbside delivery, he said. For those who want in-store shopping, capacity will be limited to 300 customers and social distancing will be enforced.

At Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, for example, black floor decals placed six feet apart throughout the exchange building indicate pre-positioned Black Friday queues. Exchange associates will also continue to monitor capacity levels throughout the day, Maskery said.

During Black Friday weekend, the “Take-A-Ticket” program will help manage crowds seeking hot items, Maskery said. Shoppers can line up as early as 5 a.m. at some locations for a ticket to claim doorbusters such as TVs, iPads and GoPros with a designated pick-up time to prevent crowds inside the stores.

Each store’s hours are established by local management, and Maskery suggests checking with individual base exchanges to verify opening times.

For some families, Black Friday shopping is as big a part of the Thanksgiving celebration as the turkey.

Michelle Flaherty, a Defense Department civilian employee for the operations support squadron at Yokota, said she will miss the shopping rush this year.

“My friends and I would literally leave after putting kids to bed after Thanksgiving to start getting in lines for highly sought-after items through the wee hours of the a.m. into the next day,” she wrote on Facebook.

The Navy Exchange, or NEX, is encouraging service members and their families to shop for deals online this year.

At Sasebo Naval Base in western Japan, the exchange posted an ad on Facebook for its sale this year, along with a QR code linked to the sale online.

“If you’re wondering why you haven’t seen the NEX’s holiday sales flyers around base, it’s because they’re advertising completely online this year as a COVID-19 preventative measure,” according to the post Monday. COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

Most exchange stores will either be closed or have restricted hours on Thanksgiving Day.

But opening on Black Friday with safety measures in place is beneficial for community morale, Maskery said.

“The Exchange recognizes the challenges of being stationed far away from extended family members during Thanksgiving,” he said. “Remaining open provides a community outlet and resource for service members and their families to enjoy the day together when so many are off-duty.”

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