Black Friday is a relatively new phenomenon in Canada, with retailers adopting the U.S. holiday in the past five or six years. Canadian companies were losing sales to competition south of the border, particularly because of a strong Canadian dollar at the time, and chose to give the event a try.
It would seem the experiment paid off, as Canadian retailers now go into all-out Black Friday mode each year and then Cyber Monday quickly thereafter. With so much noise as retailers try to grab the attention of deal-seeking shoppers, it is easy to get overwhelmed.
After 10 years of personal experience working in big-box electronics retail, here are my tips and tricks on how to be successful in your quest for technology deals during these events.
Finding the deals
While you could go to each retailer's individual website, find the flyer and then browse to see what deals will be available, one of the best things to do is let the Internet do the compiling work for you.
Not long ago, customers had to wait until the 11th hour before knowing which retailer had what on sale. In some cases, the boxes of flyers would be locked up at each store until locals would receive them in newspapers or the mail, or until an employee leaked a flyer to the public early online.
Thankfully retailers now embrace the Internet and give plenty of notice – typically a few days at least – for what most of their offerings will be. This means consumers can step back and map out a plan as the retailers simply let prices speak for themselves.
One of the best solutions is RedFlagDeals.com, which for more than a decade has been crowdsourcing Canadian retail sales – always being particularly useful during Boxing Day and now Black Friday. When it began, it focused on sharing leaked flyers from retail employees, but has since moved to sponsored listings from retailers that have realized Canadians like to plan ahead.
In addition to the event-specific page that offers flyers from nearly all major retailers (the "featured" stores are at the top), RedFlagDeals also has a message board where fellow deal-seekers share unadvertised finds and quick product feedback. ("Help! Is this deal worth it?") It really is the best solution, so far, for laying out many flyers in front of you.
Game plan: Online vs. physical
After going through the flyers and making a list of what items tickle your fancy, the first question you have to ask is whether you want to go into the store or shop online. There are pros and cons to doing both. While avoiding crowds is a nice convenience of shopping online, it does mean you are fighting for stock availability with more people (an entire country, in some cases). Plus while Black Friday is recognized in the United States as a holiday, it isn't in Canada. So unlike Boxing Day where everyone can be out and about, people have to actually take Black Friday off work (or, ahem, call in sick) to go shopping, meaning there can be fewer people in stores during the day compared to the December discount days.
If time (and sleep) is no objection, you can stay up until midnight and see which retailers have flipped over to their Black Friday sales, but that is a bit of a shot in the dark. Though Best Buy, for example, is widely advertising that its sale goes up at 12:01 am ET, most (so far) are simply offering in-store hours in flyers or on websites, leaving a big question mark for when online sales actually begin. The timing, unfortunately, seems to change each year, too.
But if you have the patience, the absolute best strategy is making the attempt to get items online first, then heading to the store in the morning for any products you may have missed (or simply for impulse buys). Often accessories (such as USB keys, high-definition cables, Blu-ray players or external hard drives) are plentiful and the shoppers who choose to line up well in advance are mainly going after big, front-page kind of sales. Most of the time it seems the average mid-flyer deal has enough stock for you, so long as you arrive on time or slightly after opening.
Just remember to double-check your retailer of choice for physical store hours, as not all are opening early like they do on Boxing Day. Some retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, have special Black Friday hours, while others are opting to stick with conventional business hours.
In terms of technology deals on Black Friday, each year you can always count on some of the latest TVs at a discount. Best Buy has $1,200 off a curved 4K television from Samsung, for example, but it'll still set you back $3,500. If you don't want to drop that kind of cash, non-curved 4K TVs can be found at retailers for a few hundred bucks off, making this still-new technology already affordable (well below the $1,000 mark, in some cases).
Wearable technology is another popular category this holiday season and there are a number of sales available. Fitbit deals are identical at most major retailers, including Best Buy, The Source, Staples and Wal-Mart: a Fitbit Flex for $89 (normally $120) or Fitbit Charge HR for $150 (normally $180). Best Buy also has smartwatches on discount: a Pebble Classic for $80 (normally $120), Pebble Time for $180 (normally $250) or first-generation Moto 360 for $180 (normally ($200).
Video gaming is always an interesting category on days like Black Friday since profit margins are already thin on these products, so many of the deals are partly funded by manufacturers and are the same at most retailers. A Nintendo Wii U bundle with Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon is at $280 (normally $330), a 500GB Xbox One with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and NHL 16 is $350 (normally $480) and the 500GB PlayStation 4 with Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection with your choice of either The Last of Us (Wal-Mart) or God of War 3 (Best Buy) is $370.
There are a variety of games on sale, too, which does vary by retail chain. Initial standouts on a game of the year level include Halo 5 for $50 (Wal-Mart), Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain for $50 (most major retailers) and even Grand Theft Auto V for $45 (Best Buy).
There are plenty of other technology deals to be had, so your best bet is to browse the flyers. Typically, accessories such as cables, speakers or memory are some of your most discounted categories during one-day events like Black Friday.
If you're thinking about going to the United States for a day of shopping, you might want to reconsider. In addition to the time commitment of driving and waiting at the border, plus the cost of gas and extra duty charges, the weak Canadian dollar is pushing up those attractively low price tags.
For example, across the border, Wal-Mart has a PlayStation 4 bundle on sale for $299.99 (U.S.), while the same bundle is being widely offered here with an extra game for $369.99 (Canadian). The $70 difference in the price tag is appealing but the exchange rate actually puts the U.S. price tag at around $400 (Canadian), meaning you are now paying around $30 more before even leaving the stateside Wal-Mart.
Similar examples of a poor exchange rate can be found in other retail chains on items such as laptops, TVs, fitness devices and more. The higher the price, the bigger the swing in exchange rate. Plus, as mentioned already, this doesn't even include the other costs associated with the trip.
So unless you are mainly going down to say you have experienced a U.S. Black Friday, it might make more financial sense to stay north of the border this year.
While there are sales taking place on Cyber Monday, it's often a mystery until the day has arrived. Perhaps in fear of cannibalizing each event's purchases, many retailers wait until Black Friday (or sometimes later) to reveal what is coming on Cyber Monday, though some might release a handful of prices not in direct competition with Friday deals.
More often then not, Cyber Monday is an extension of big-ticket item sales (though not as cheap as the Black Friday pricing in past years) and additional middle-of-the-road accessory level items. You might see some different video games, movies, cables or other smaller items, but there haven't been too many standout sales in the past (with the odd exception).
Cyber Monday is still newer than Black Friday though and somewhat uncharted territory, so you never know which year might be the one retailers decide to suddenly ramp up their Monday offerings.
Boxing Day, on the other hand, still seems to be winner of the big three.
A new report by Colliers International shows that 36 per cent of products in Canada are discounted more on Boxing Day than Black Friday, while 48 per cent of items are priced about the same. Just 16 per cent of products, according to the report, are actually cheaper on Black Friday than Boxing Day. If anything, Black Friday is at least indicative of the type of items we might expect to see on Boxing Day and a ballpark figure of discounts.
Not everyone can wait until Boxing Day because they use Black Friday and Cyber Monday as an opportunity to purchase gifts for the holidays instead of items for themselves. This no doubt helps drive the day's success. Plus, having nearly half of the products on par with Boxing Day pricing – the biggest Canadian shopping event of the year – is still quite impressive. Money saved is money saved, after all.
But profit margins are often thin in the technology category, so it is hard to expect jaw-dropping prices during either event. The average discount on electronics is 29 per cent on Boxing Day and 27 per cent on Black Friday, according to Colliers, which isn't as high as other product categories. Colliers' final recommendation is that for "those who can wait until after Christmas, more and larger discounts will be available – particularly on appliances, electronics, and goods priced under $100."