Black Friday snowballs across the border

NEW_Black Friday_Emily Thiessen

—Emily Thiessen (graphic)

Over the last 10 years, Black Friday sales have spread over the border and across Canada. Black Friday has been a competitive shopping ritual in the States for decades and, according to UVic marketing professor Stephen Tax, it is an aggressive tradition.

“In many cases, once the doors open something the equivalent to a hockey game breaks out and the elbows are flying. People are often very aggressive in pursuing their bargains,” Tax said.

Though a reaction to the American shopping holiday, Canadian Black Friday sales still haven’t resorted to methods of force. “In Canada, obviously people don’t have the day off, so you don’t have the same level of intensity,” Tax explained. In the States, Black Friday occurs the day after Thanksgiving, which increases the importance and accessibility of the sales exponentially.

“Even in Canada, people who do go to the Black Friday sales are different from the average shopper. They’re really much more motivated and primed to purchase,” he said.

Prompted by the number of Canadian’s travelling across the border to take advantage of U.S. sales during the holidays, Canadian retailers began to introduce Black Friday sales of their own. “I think it’s motivated mostly by competition,” Tax said. “The cross-border shopping at [American] Thanksgiving had become a real challenge for Canadian retailers.”

“Whether you like it or not, Canadian businesses need to react to the fact that the U.S. competition is staging a huge event,” he said. “Regardless of how you feel about the consumer side of the experience, it really is something that Canadian retailers have to take on or they’re really at risk of losing a lot of business to the U.S.”

According to Tax, once one store introduces a sale of this sort, other stores in that market inevitable follow suit. “It’s a bit of a snowball effect. Once a few retailers start doing it, their competitors locally are also motivated to say ‘hey, we can’t let them get the jump,’” Tax said. “Being the first mover is really important. If you decide not to offer that sale and your competitors are taking the customer’s spending dollars before they even consider your store, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

Tax expanded upon this, explaining that the number of stores offering Black Friday sales can go from 10 per cent to 90 per cent of a given market in a single year.

“We’re even seeing Grey Thursday to pre-empt Black Friday,” Tax said. “Even in the States, there’s a lot of complaints from labour that people are having to work on Thanksgiving, where [sales] used start the day after.”

Tax regards Black Friday as an interesting phenomenon, particularly in the States: “Black Friday in the U.S. isn’t just the bargains. It is part of the Thanksgiving ritual. In Canada it really doesn’t have that element to it.”

“It will be interesting to see over time how that plays out in Canada, if it becomes a little bit more ritualized,” Tax said. “We’ll see if traditions evolve, but right now it’s merely a competitive effort to try to keep people at home.”

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