HIGH POINT — Furniture retailers finished out strong late last month with the close of Black Friday weekend, putting a bow on a big year of retail holiday firsts.

In a year fraught with challenges for retailers, it was a welcome surprise.

At Tamarac, Fla.-based City Furniture, President Andrew Koenig said the retailer took an “extremely aggressive” approach both to Black Friday and the entire month of November/the holiday season.

“We had a record-breaking Black Friday weekend and month of November. The team worked very hard all year to get ready for November, and I’m very proud of their execution.”

But it did not come without challenges of its own, most of which were specifically linked to finding ways to get customers comfortable with coming out to stores to shop or finding new ways to meet their needs virtually.

A key to making the weekend work for most in stores? Spreading out the length of Black Friday sales to give customers time to come in and not crowd stores, making COVID-19 guidelines easier to manage and keeping customers feeling safe.

“We executed differently this year for Black Friday,” said Lane Hamm, St. Louis-based Weekends Only’s president and CEO. “We advertised deals earlier in the month than we typically do and released doorbusters online on Thanksgiving vs. waiting until Black Friday.”

Overall, Hamm said that sales volume for the week was softer in-store as people moved away from physical shopping, but that online sales for the retailer were up significantly, particularly early in the week. Ultimately, Hamm said that he felt good about results in November.

The story was similar at Redwood City, Calif.-based Hoot Judkins Furniture, which ran the same event this year as it did last year but started the event much earlier on Nov. 9 and ending later on Dec. 7.

“We offered discounted pricing throughout the store and an extra discount equal to the sales tax if the customer either donated a new unwrapped toy valued at $25 or more, or if they made a $25 donation,” said co-owner Bobby Watson.

He said that traffic was down slightly in the store, with 7% fewer sales orders written, but that in-person sales were substantially higher than last year. Online, orders on Cyber Monday more than doubled year-over-year, too.

For the weekend itself, which included Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, sales were up 32% over the same period last year.

On the fundraising side, Hoot Judkins Furniture raised more than $7,350, which the Watson said the retailer will use to buy toys for the Redwood City Police and Fire Toy Drive, and collected more than two barrel full of toys.

“People want the convenience of coming to the store on their schedule and to avoid the crowds, but (they) still want the deals,” noted Watson. “Stretching the event seems to be a winning strategy.”

Spreading out the holidays is a trending theme across the U.S., with marketing company Zenreach reporting that retail customer walk-ins increased the weekend after summer holidays: 11.6% after Memorial Day, 10% after Independence Day and 0.2% after Labor Day.

The National Retail Federation is calling the longer sales period and shopping trend “New Holiday Traditions” in its nationwide consumer education campaign, created to encourage consumers to shop safe and shop early to cut down on crowds and product shortages.

“This is going to be a historic holiday season … that is why we encourage consumers to adopt two new traditions this year — shop safe and shop early — so we can all celebrate a happy and healthy holiday,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay on the push.

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