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Pandemic or not, some shoppers still going out during Black Friday

Last Updated Nov 27, 2020 at 12:44 pm MDT

Shoppers line up inside Chinook Centre in Calgary during Black Friday 2020. CREDIT: Nick Blakeney, CityNews)

TORONTO – Black Friday, the one-day shopping bonanza known for its big bargains and large crowds, has arrived.

While rising COVID-19 cases and weeks of staggered deals have muted the usual fanfare of the shopping event, retailers are banking on today’s sales to bolster their bottom line.

Hundreds of shoppers lined up in places like CF Chinook Centre, hoping to land bargain deals.

Retail analysts say some bargain hunters are still expected to shop in brick-and-mortar stores, where possible, in the hopes of snagging a doorbuster deal.

But they say the majority of this year’s Black Friday purchases are expected to be made online.

Eric Morris, head of retail at Google Canada, says e-commerce in Canada has doubled during the pandemic.

He says given ongoing lockdowns and in-store capacity limits, online sales are expected to be strong today and remain heightened over the holiday shopping season.

Marketing professor Markus Giesler said despite warnings from public health officials to stay home, people will still head out to get some good deals.

“We’re probably going to see an awkward pandemonium situation where we will have lineups, we will have crowded situations. We will see door crashing. All of this is not surprising because retailers, arguably, have an interest in getting people to the store and driving sales.”

Indeed, big box stores, which often attract the largest lineups and crowds on Black Friday, have moved most promotions online.

Yet although Black Friday’s top sellers tend to be big-ticket electronics, some shoppers might be on the hunt for deals on more basic items.

Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, says some shoppers may take advantage of today’s sales to “stock up and hunker down for the winter.”

A major change this year is the fact the Canada-US border is still closed to non-essential travel, but professor at the Smith School of Business Tandy Thomas said that might actually help Canadian shops.

“In previous years…a lot of Canadians who just pop on over and take advantage of these crazy deals down in the U.S., which often surpass what we were getting in Canada. We do know, Canadian retailers don’t have to compete with their U.S. counterparts in the same way.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business points out two out of five small business owners say they see fewer customers during Black Friday than most days so the CFIB is pushing for consumers to buy local this year.

“If all of us just go to Walmart and Costco and then head to Amazon, those will be the dominant players and the small firms will just wither and die,” said Dan Kelly with the CFIB. That would be just a terrible thing for every community across Canada.”

Black Friday, which started as a post-Thanksgiving sale in the United States, has gained in popularity in Canada in recent years.

It’s also become an increasingly important sales event for retailers, along with Cyber Monday, overshadowing Boxing Day.

Robin Sahota, managing director and Canadian retail lead for professional services firm Accenture, says retailers might be saving some special discounts for Cyber Monday.

“It’s going to be a day where retailers look to add some sweeteners to entice consumers, particularly with the pull forward of Black Friday,” he says. “I think folks will be seeking out something special on Cyber Monday.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press