Retailers compete for customers with 'Canadian' Black Friday push

TORONTO – Black Friday looks to be bigger in Canada this year as more retailers try to keep consumers closer to home on the most important shopping day of the year in the United States.

One of the country’s largest shopping mall operators, Cadillac Fairview, has responded to retailer requests by opening 21 properties early on Friday so it can lure customers who might be tempted to cross the border in search of deep discounts on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving.

“It’s a fun way for us to kick off the holiday shopping season,” marketing director Wendy Greenwood said of the company’s decision to open properties early for the second year in a row.

“Consumers can shop locally and still get great deals without having to go south of the border.”

She said consumers can expect to see door crashers and discounts of up to 50 per cent at its stores. Last year, when the company tested the early hours for the first time, it resulted in a 22 per cent spike in traffic.

This year, Cadillac Fairview’s landmark mall, Toronto’s Eaton Centre, will open at 6 a.m. on Nov. 29, while other properties across the country will welcome customers through the doors at either 7 a.m. or 8 a.m.

In the U.S., Black Friday marks the start of the crucial holiday shopping season — an opportunity for retailers to push merchandise out the door and begin to turn a profit, or head into the black.

Although there likely won’t be the same number of overnight lineups or customers stampeding into stores for midnight madness deals in Canada as in the U.S., the popularity of Black Friday is growing as retailers continue to feel the squeeze on their bottom line from American competitors.

Retailers like and Sears Canada have responded with deals that include sales of up to 70 per cent off on everything from television sets, cameras and clothing to kitchen appliances.

And a recent poll released by the Bank of Montreal found that Canadian shoppers are hungry to shop on Black Friday.

Forty-seven per cent of Canadians it surveyed planned on shopping this year — up from 41 per cent last year — with each shopper expecting to spend an average of $292.

Another poll from UPS Canada also found that the number of Canadians who plan on crossing the border for Black Friday has also increased, up from six per cent in 2011 to 14 per cent this year.

“It’s a cultural leakage from one side to the other,” said Kelly Askew, managing director of retail management consulting for Accenture Canada.

“If Canadian retailers ignore it, it will be to their detriment if they don’t stop consumers from going across the border.”

The nostalgia associated with Black Friday in the U.S. does not exist in Canada as consumers here are more used to seeing big discounts on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.

Yet Askew said it’s vital for Canadian retailers to attract customers on Black Friday, especially when the physical border between the two countries has blurred due to online commerce and with more U.S. companies like Nordstrom and Target setting up shop in Canada.

“It is definitely a manufactured date. The reason why it’s contagious, why we’re seeing Black Friday deals in the U.K. as well, is because of e-commerce and digital,” he said.

“When a consumer goes into a search engine, they’re getting results from both sides of the border. They’re seeing Black Friday sales on the U.S. side and want the same sales here.”

It also makes financial sense for Canadian retailers to embrace Black Friday, even though clearance sales will no doubt put downward pressure on profit margins.

“Retailers typically have their fourth quarter in the last part of the year and their results are coming out in January so the sooner they can pull sales, the more confidence they have in executing the clearance at the end of the year,” he said.

“Their year isn’t made or missed in the last week of a year.”

It’s the sales that had Anne-Marie Slodichak making the trip to the U.S. year after year on Black Friday. But as the Canadian dollar weakened and the price of gas stayed high, she has given up on those trips.

With more Canadian stores embracing Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Monday after Black Friday), it has become easier for her shop without going on a road trip.

This year, the mother of two from Oakville, Ont., will be in front of her computer to search for discounts.

“I’m a big online shopper now,” said the 53-year-old. “Now, I can find really great deals online through mailing lists or websites. Retailers are finally getting the message that we’re looking for deals everywhere.”