Canadian shoppers are out deal-hunting during a muted Black Friday as decades-high inflation weighs on consumers and prompts some to rein in spending.
Retailers have stretched deals over several weeks and offered similar discounts online, taking some of the frenzy out of the holiday shopping event.
Several big box stores in the Toronto area, such as Best Buy and Walmart, lacked the usual early morning lineups that once epitomized Black Friday.
Malls in the area appeared busy around lunchtime, but not swarming with the crowds and queues seen in previous years. Few stores appeared to have lines of waiting customers.
“We’re seeing a dilution of Black Friday as a physical shopping event where you go to the store early in the morning,” retail analyst Bruce Winder said Friday.
“It’s finally sort of hit that tipping point where it’s much less about the day and it’s more about the shopping period.”
The elongation of Black Friday sales has lessened the urgency for consumers to shop on one particular day, said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group.
“The need to line up isn’t as necessary,” she said Friday. “Most of the retailers have been on sale a good portion of the week already.”
Overall Black Friday sales are expected to be strong as inflation intensifies the hunt for deals, experts say.
Yet the rising cost of living will also lead customers to “cherry pick” sales, Winder said.
Stores that offer blowout deals of up to 70 per cent off will be busy while retailers with more tepid discounts won’t see the same traffic online or in stores, Winder said.
“If you’re a retailer and you’re trying to move something at 25 or 30 per cent off – it ain’t gonna sell,” he said.
Some retailers, especially those with high levels of inventory such as apparel, will likely offer bigger sales in stores than online.
“If the merchandise is already there and they’re running short on space, they’ll want to turn it into cash – especially if they don’t have room to pack it up and hold it for another year,” Winder said.
Meanwhile, after years of pandemic health restrictions, shopping in brick-and-mortar stores is expected to make a comeback this holiday season, including on Black Friday.
“We continue to see increased levels and excitement for in-person shopping across all our 18 shopping centres,” Sal Iacono, executive vice-president of operations for Cadillac Fairview, said in an e-mailed statement.
The company, which operates a number of malls across the country including the Eaton Centre in Toronto and the Pacific Centre in Vancouver, has seen retailers extend promotions over a longer period of time but still expects Black Friday to be a big shopping day, he said.
“We anticipate Black Friday to be one of the busiest shopping days at all our retail centres and we are looking forward to continuing to see the prolonged momentum throughout the entire season,” Iacono said.
Still, while some Canadians are eager to return to in-person shopping, others now prefer to do their holiday gift-buying online.
Bradley Thompson of Oakville, Ont., said he plans to do all his Christmas shopping on Black Friday – but won’t be stepping foot in a store.
“I’m not a big in-store shopper. I’m a real millennial in the sense that I’ll be doing all my shopping online,” he said.
“As a personal challenge, I try to get all of my Christmas shopping done during the Black Friday sales.”
He usually checks the sales at the big players like Amazon, Walmart and Best Buy, but Thompson said he’s increasingly also shopping at Etsy and smaller local businesses online.
Overall, he said the Black Friday deals he’s come across are good – but not great.
“The discounts don’t seem to be quite as steep as they used to be but they run them a little bit longer,” Thompson said. “Inflation is crazy right now though so every little bit I can save helps.”
With files from Rosa Saba.