Columbus-area warehouses prepare for holiday shopping boom

Every day is like Black Friday lately at the Amazon distribution center in Etna Township in Licking County.



a person on the machine: Ethan Kuespert of Canal Winchester packages customer orders at the Amazon distribution center in Etna, Ohio on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. The facility, which employees 2,500, can distribute hundreds of thousands of packages a day.


© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch
Ethan Kuespert of Canal Winchester packages customer orders at the Amazon distribution center in Etna, Ohio on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. The facility, which employees 2,500, can distribute hundreds of thousands of packages a day.

Orders at the internet giant have soared since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March and consumers have shunned stores for the safety of buying from home.

So when asked about getting ready for the busy holiday sales period, Derek Hotchkiss, director of operations at the distribution center, said the 2,500 workers at the facility have been going full tilt for months.

“We don’t look at it necessarily as holiday mode,” Hotchkiss said. “We’ve looked at it since March as serving the community and helping us get through the pandemic mode. That mentality, which is incredibly customer-centric, carries us through the holiday.”



a person standing next to a suitcase: Amazon's distribution center in Etna Township, which employees 2,500, can distribute hundreds of thousands of packages a day.


© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch
Amazon’s distribution center in Etna Township, which employees 2,500, can distribute hundreds of thousands of packages a day.

This year’s holiday shopping season will be much different as COVID-19 cases spike. Government officials have urged families to cancel their Thanksgiving plans and stay home.

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But from a retail perspective, the coronavirus has simply hastened the online shopping trend, said Lee Peterson, executive vice president with WD Partners, a Dublin retail-consulting group.

“COVID is not a disruptor. It’s an accelerator,” he said.

U.S. online holiday sales this season are expected to shatter previous records. Adobe Analytics, which measures sales at 80 of the top 100 U.S. online retailers, predicts that consumers will spend $189 billion online, up 33% from last year. That’s equal to two years worth of holiday e-commerce sales growth shoved into one season.

PNC Bank is forecasting a 27% surge in online sales while in-store sales are expected to drop 6%.

“The idea of sending people to stores the day after Thanksgiving is as antiquated as store malls themselves,” Peterson said.

Black Friday historically has been associated with the Friday or weekend after Thanksgiving when consumers rushed to stores to buy holiday gifts. Instead, it has become a proxy for any sale, Peterson said. Retailers have been offering Black Friday deals for weeks and saying those will extend through the holidays.

Just look what happened when Amazon moved Prime Day to October. Many retailers responded with deals of their own. Others have had rolling sales or instituted deals for consumers to buy online and pick up at the store.

“Black Friday probably began in the middle of last month,” said Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants.



a close up of a box: Conveyor belts move packages through the Amazon distribution center in Etna Township.


© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch
Conveyor belts move packages through the Amazon distribution center in Etna Township.

In some instances, stores have become a kind of distribution center where consumers can buy online and have products delivered to their home. Best Buy, for example, converted space in 250 of its 1,000 stores

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