Black Friday heads north

29 November 2013

TORONTO: Canadian retailers are responding to the threat of Black Friday by opening stores early and offering significant discounts as they attempt to lure shoppers who might otherwise head across the border to the US in search of bargains.

For example, Cadillac Fairview, one of the country's largest shopping mall operators, is opening 21 properties as early as 6am on Friday with markdowns of up to 50% available in stores. And retailers like Amazon.ca and Sears Canada have 70% off deals on consumer electronics and clothing.

A recent Bank of Montreal survey detected a widespread enthusiasm for shopping on Black Friday – 47% of Canadians planned to shop this year compared to 41% last year – while a separate UPS Canada poll found that the proportion of Canadians planning to cross the border on that day had more than doubled in two years.

"It's a cultural leakage from one side to the other," Kelly Askew, managing director of retail management consulting for Accenture Canada, told CTV News.

"If Canadian retailers ignore it," he added, "it will be to their detriment if they don't stop consumers from going across the border."

While there is no tradition of a shopping weekend this early in the holiday season – Boxing Day is still the big sales day in the Canadian calendar – Askew pointed out that ecommerce had blurred the physical border between the two countries.

"When a consumer goes into a search engine, they're getting results from both sides of the border," he said. "They're seeing Black Friday sales on the US side and want the same sales here."

His comments were echoed by Ryan Brain, a consumer expert with Deloitte Canada. He told CBC that local shoppers had yet to fully embrace the Black Friday concept and said that online retail was the main factor.

"It's really the customer that dictates when they shop, how they shop, what they want," he said. "The notion of a Black Friday just doesn't really mean much if you're totally in control of the shopping experience."

And Marion Chan, principal of TrendSpotter Consulting in Toronto, said that retailers couldn't have both Black Friday and Boxing Day.

She noted that many US retailers now had a presence in Canada and that all the promotions they undertook simply ended up driving down margins for everyone.

That might be great for the consumer, she said, but the retail economy "can't survive on this kind of constant promotion and so to have yet one more day when they're going to slash their prices, something's going to have to give."

Data sourced from CTC News, CBC; additional content by Warc staff