Let the holiday shopping begin! Black Friday is on its way to Canadian stores

TORONTO – The Canadian holiday shopping season is looking decidedly more American this year as retailers schedule a rush of Black Friday events in hopes that consumers will shop at home, rather than head south of the border.

Whether its extended hours at some of the country’s busiest malls or door crasher events and heavy markdowns, most big name retailers have hopped on the Black Friday bandwagon with the fanfare once reserved for the Boxing Day holiday.

Black Friday is timed to the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, and has become a tradition for many families who gather for dinner, then wake up early the next morning to take advantage of deep discounts.

The day serves to kick off the holiday shopping season — the time when retailers turn a profit, or go “into the black” — and is widely considered the busiest shopping day of the year.

It may just be a random November day for Canadians, but shoppers north of the border are increasingly buying into Black Friday, and the Monday after, which has come to be known as Cyber Monday because it’s when online retailers tend to hold their sales.

A CIBC (TSX:CM) poll conducted by Harris/Decima being released Monday suggests nearly one-in- ten of the 1,000 Canadian survey respondents plans on making a purchase during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales period — suggesting that millions of Canadians will be shopping for holiday deals this weekend.

Many Canadian retailers have jumped on the trend as a new way to angle a promotion, says Mark Satov, founder of management consulting firm Satov Consultants Inc.

“Some retailers are feeling there’s a lot of dead time between Halloween and Christmas,” he said.

“If you’re advertising a general event, you’re creating the impression that everything is on sale, and when consumers get there, everything doesn’t have to be on sale, but they’re there anyway, so they’re going to buy.”

Promotional campaigns will be splashed across store windows and in flyers across the country this week, with retailers from Gap Inc. to PetSmart hopping aboard the trend to offer extended hours and sales.

Other retailers appear to share that enthusiasm, including The Bay, which angled a mid-November sale as “Black Friday arrives early” — even though it was nearly a week and a half before U.S. Thanksgiving. Some retailers will stretch out Black Friday nearly as long, such as The Body Shop which is promoting sales that last for a week.

But Canada’s version of Black Friday won’t be everything it’s hyped to be, some suggest.

“It’s a myth,” says retail consultant Jim Danahy of CustomerLAB, which works with companies in all categories including drug, department, food and specialty retailers.

“Stores are not bringing merchandise in any sooner than they were before. They are not changing their promotional calendars. It is simply the super-imposition of a term that exists in the United States here.”

In some ways, drumming up enthusiasm for Black Friday is a move of desperation for Canadian retailers who are dealing with consumers who expect a lot more from their local stores than they did five years ago.

The high value of the loonie and the availability of many U.S. deals online have encouraged Canadians to spend their money at American retailers.

A survey released last week by Visa Canada found that about 44 per cent of respondents to a poll said they were planning to take advantage of discounts offered online by American retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The response marked a 10 per cent increase over a year ago, according to the survey conducted by Ipsos Reid.

At one time, the event was on the radar of only the most avid Canadian shoppers, who would head stateside to capture the best deals, sometimes carpooling with friends or taking one of the many charter buses that head south for day trips. But when the loonie soared above parity in 2007, a growing number of Canadians began to take advantage of the cheaper price tags offered by American stores.

Since then, Black Friday has grown to be a part of Canadian shopping culture, and cross-border shopping could prove particularly competitive this year after the federal government relaxed the rules in June.

Cross-border shoppers who stay overnight in the United States are now allowed to bring back up to $200 worth of merchandise duty-free, rather than just $50 before the new rules were put in place.

For people who travel between two and seven days, the limit has doubled to $800 from $400 while the limit for visits of more than a week increases to $800 from $750.

Whether the rule changes will encourage more Canadians to shop stateside remains to be seen, but retailers aren’t taking any chances. This year, both Best Buy Canada and Future Shop join the list of companies that will champion their own Black Friday sales.

“A lot of Canadians who might’ve planned to go to the States to shop, maybe they’ll come here instead,” said spokeswoman Danielle Jang.

“We want to give Canadians a reason to shop with us.”