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The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season

The pandemic has upended Thanksgiving and the shopping season that the holiday kicks off, creating a new crop of economic winners and losers.

The big picture: Just as it has exacerbated inequality in every other facet of American life, the coronavirus pandemic is deepening inequities in the business world, with the biggest and most powerful companies rapidly outpacing the smaller players.

The winners ...

  • Online grocery: Orders are up 560% in the last week (compared with October) as most people do their Thanksgiving dinner shopping online, according to Adobe Analytics.
  • Small turkeys: There's a shortage of 8 to 16-pound birds in America as people prepare to celebrate the holiday with just their immediate families this year.
  • E-commerce: Black Friday has moved online this year, and Amazon, along with all the other big retailers that are offering delivery, are seeing unprecedented sales surges. Holiday shoppers are 32% more likely to buy from an e-commerce-capable retailer than not, Adobe Analytics reports.
  • Thai restaurants: Thai food seems to be Americans' top pandemic-era takeout choice, says marketing analytics company Zenreach. Thai restaurants are operating at 45% of their normal capacity, compared with the industry average of 35%.

... and the losers:

  • Small businesses: Hundreds of thousands of small, independent businesses remain closed around the country, and close to 60% of them have now shuttered for good, according to Yelp data.
  • The leisure and hospitality sector: Hotels, restaurants, theme parks and other businesses that typically thrive during the holidays have been hardest hit. 65% of small businesses in this sector have closed in San Francisco, 72% in New Orleans, 55% in D.C., and 60% in San Antonio, according to the World Economic Forum.
  • Malls: With cases spiking, long Black Friday lines will be a thing of the past. 74% of people plan to shop online this weekend to avoid crowds, per a Deloitte survey.
  • Travel: Even though millions traveled to a Thanksgiving celebration this year, far fewer did so than in years past. Air travel saw a 48% drop.
  • "Turkey first-timers": As people decide against traveling for Thanksgiving this year, those who are typically dinner guests and are tasked with just showing up with a bottle of wine will have to attempt to cook the feast themselves, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The bottom line: This pandemic holiday season will be especially painful for the millions of disproportionately lower-income Americans who are still out of work, says Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

  • "The norm for most Americans is to have a little bit extra this season, whether that's to give gifts or host a celebration," she says. "The inability to do that because of finances is surely wreaking emotional havoc on families."

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