Skip to main content
your money

Shoppers make their way through the Walden Galleria mall in Buffalo, New York on Black Friday, November 23, 2012.JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

Last year on Black Friday, Silvana Castronovo was standing in a Best Buy in Buffalo, N.Y., at 4 a.m., watching two people duke it out over an electric toothbrush.

"It was kind of funny. The security guards were around them. Everyone was just watching, wondering what they were fighting over," said the 29-year-old tech worker.

"It was an electric toothbrush. They were pulling at it. They both had their hands on it and they wanted it."

The absurdity she witnessed was not enough to make Castronovo rethink her Black Friday tradition.

At the end of the month, the Vaughan, Ont., resident and three friends will again make the trip south – five hours this time to Pennsylvania – to cash in on the biggest shopping day of the year in the United States.

A poll released Thursday by the Bank of Montreal says 47 per cent of Canadians it surveyed planned on shopping on Black Friday this year – up from 41 per cent last year – with each shopper expecting to spend an average of $292.

BMO finance expert Laura Parsons said Canadians continue to flock to popular cross-border destinations because they believe they can't find the same kind of deep-discounted deals at Canadian retailers on Nov. 29.

"It's terrible to say, but some of the selection in the U.S., the unique items, is what's driving us south to do our Christmas shopping," she said from Calgary. "The outlets aren't here in Canada and things are probably a lot cheaper there than in Canada."

And those who are planning to shop are looking for a good deal. A recent study by Google Canada found that 60 per cent of those surveyed go online to research discounts offered on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the Monday following the American Thanksgiving.

In addition to online research beforehand, experts say it's important to stay on track by making a list of what you want to buy and by drawing up a budget to help avoid impulse spending.

But most agree that the top tip to lessen the chaos of Black Friday shopping is to get there early to avoid disappointment. Typically, stores open at midnight on Black Friday but, this year, many stores are opening their doors as early as 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. The best deals are often in limited supply and sold on a first come, first served basis.

Black Friday marks the start of the crucial holiday shopping season for retailers in the U.S. – the time when most begin to turn a profit, or head into the black.

And while some Canadian retailers, particularly U.S. entrants like Target and Nordstrom, have embraced Black Friday discounts, the industry here hasn't jumped on board with the idea, says Ken Wong, a marketing and business strategy professor at Queen's University.

"Now I think if retailers can get their collective act together, there is certainly great incentive for them to try to create an event around which everybody can launch. I don't get the sense that there is that collective response in Canada," he said from Kingston, Ont.

Castronovo said images of people sleeping outside a store, or a frenzied mob scene charging into a store as doors open on Black Friday are pretty accurate. And so are the discounts.

One year, she waited for four hours to buy a camera for $200 – half price. Another year, she scored a $4 Disney pyjama set for her niece and came home with a handful of movie DVDs at 99 cents a pop. Then there was that one time when she didn't' come back to Canada with anything but 10 boxes of Pillsbury cake mix.

"It's an adventure," laughed the avid shopper. "You never know what's going to happen."


– Wear comfortable shoes because the lineups will undoubtedly be long.

– If shopping with others, have your friend hold your place in line while you browse, and then switch places, to cut down on wait times.

– Many retailers close their dressing rooms so wear clothes you can layer or remove easily if you plan on trying on items.

– Bring snacks and water.

– If you plan to start shopping in the early morning hours, consider taking a nap in your car to avoid paying for a hotel.

– Call your credit card company to let them know you will be shopping in the U.S. so your card isn't flagged for fraud.

– If you don't like crowds, try online shopping instead.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story on Nov. 21 said 47 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they planned to shop in the United States on Black Friday. In fact, the BMO survey didn't ask where they would do their shopping.