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Black Friday creeps north as Canadians join four-day frenzy

Shoppers rush through the doors as Macy’s opens for Black Friday.

Peter Foley/Bloomberg

Shoppers still love heading to the mall, but the frenzy of Black Friday is rapidly giving way to silent tapping on iPads and smartphones.

Last week marked the best Black Friday ever for online shopping across the United States, with sales topping $1-billion (U.S.) for the first time, up 26 per cent from the same day last year, according to data from comScore Inc. Americans spent another $633-million on Thanksgiving Day, also a new record.

That bodes well for Cyber Monday – Nov. 26 – often the busiest e-commerce day of the year. "Online sales are increasingly taking over," Bank of Nova Scotia economist Derek Holt said in a research note.

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Black Friday in-store sales across the United States fell nearly 2 per cent to $11.2-billion (U.S.) compared with 2011, even as more Americans went shopping, according to an estimate by ShopperTrak.

But the surge in online buying appears to have boosted overall purchases over the four-day U.S. Thanksgiving weekend, which kicks off the annual holiday buying sprint – in the United States, and increasingly in Canada too.

The hype surrounding Cyber Monday and Black Friday is spreading north of the border, and some experts predict the weekend-long sales binge could soon surpass Boxing Day as the busiest shopping period of the year in Canada.

The largely U.S. phenomenon is creeping north as more U.S. competitors set up shop here, the high Canadian dollar makes cross-border buying more attractive, and Canadian retailers work harder to keep shoppers from pursuing bargains south of the border. Several major Canadian chains advertised Black Friday specials in Canada, even though it was a work day for most Canadians, unlike their American counterparts.

Willy Kruh, global chairman in retail markets at KPMG, said he wouldn't be surprised if the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday soon overtake the week of Boxing Day as the best period for retailers in Canada. "On Boxing Day, Christmas is over and they've got to deep discount [merchandise]. Now, you're selling to those who are looking for Christmas presents for deals," he said.

Cyber Monday – which cropped up in Canada just three years ago – is growing at an even faster pace in Canada than Black Friday, as retailers look for new ways to fight back against U.S. competitors eating into their profits, Mr. Kruh said.

Last year, Canadian Black Friday sales were up 8.5 per cent from 2010, while Cyber Monday sales grew at 15.4 per cent, according to KPMG research.

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A record 89-million Americans shopped online or in stores over the weekend, up from 86 million last year, the U.S. National Retail Federation (NRF) reported Sunday, based on a survey of more than 4,000 consumers. And those shoppers spent more, too: an estimated $59.1-billion over the four-day weekend, compared to $52.4-billion last year – a good sign for the sluggish U.S. economy.

Black Friday is the day many retailers get into the profit-making "black" for the year as shoppers flock to stores after the holiday.

The shopping weekend is also getting longer, with stores now opening Thursday evening to get an early jump on sales, and then stretching through Cyber Monday. The NRF said a record 35-million Americans shopped on Thanksgiving Day, which has traditionally been devoted to family gatherings and watching football.

The weekend has become an increasingly important time for digital shopping, as the hype created by Black Friday bargains in stores drives consumers to make purchases from wherever they happen to be. Online shopping represents roughly 10 per cent of total retail sales. But that's growing fast, particularly with the proliferation of compact mobile devices such as the Apple iPad, which make Web purchases faster and easier.

The NRF survey, for example, found that shoppers did more than 40 per cent of their Thanksgiving weekend shopping online.

The iPad alone accounted for 10 per cent of online shopping on Black Friday, according to a report by IBM. iPhones accounted for another 8.7 per cent of retail online traffic, meaning that Apple mobile devices were used in nearly 20 per cent of online shopping last Friday.

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Overall online sales were up 20.7 per cent compared with last year, IBM reported. Purchases made on mobile devices exceeded 16 per cent of total sales, up from 9.8 per cent in 2011.

Even the shoppers who braved traffic and jostling at the mall were using mobile devices to find good deals. IBM said nearly one in six shoppers used a smart phone to hunt for deals, in-store and online.

With files from Canadian Press

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