By now, most have heard repeatedly about how December’s punishing ice storms kept consumers snowed in and away from shopping malls, something that generally dented sales for virtually all retailers with the possible exception of Canadian Tire.
But buried in the retail numbers for November through January is a second, emerging factor: the rise of Black Friday as a genuine consumer event here in Canada.
“The ice storm was likely one factor weighing in December, but there appear to be some seasonal issues surrounding Black Friday as well,” Bank of Montreal economists said Friday ahead of the latest reading on how much consumers collectively spent on everything from cars to clothing.
Noting that “Black Friday deals are a relatively new phenomenon in Canada,” the bank economists pointed out that for two years in a row categories like electronics have seen sales spike in November before falling “sharply” in December – traditionally the month when iPods and other gadgets are bought up before Christmas, or afterward via Boxing Day sales.
Electronic sales snapped back in January, Statistics Canada said Friday, jumping 1.6 per cent in the month compared to a year earlier.
Two years may not be long enough to solidify a trend just yet, but experts say the evidence is mounting.
“I would definitely say that Black Friday has become an entrenched event in Canadian retail,” said Doug Stephens, a Toronto based consultant and principal analyst at Retail Prophet.
Big U.S. retailers like Walmart have led the charge, hoping to lure shoppers away from Canadian retailers who’ve grown accustomed to waiting until after the holiday rush to slash prices and unload excess inventory.
In contrast, the massive U.S. discount retailer reduced prices on everything from Samsung smartphones to Tassimo single-cup coffee brewers during the Nov. 28 weekend last year, triggering 2 million visits from online shoppers to its Canadian e-commerce site.
Stephens said Canadian retailers are responding in kind, pulling ahead aggressive sales they otherwise would have waited to roll out.
“Boxing Day will definitely be the victim in all of it,” the analyst said.
There’s still one factor that favours the Dec. 26 holiday shopping event, however: Canadians still get Boxing Day off, while most of us are stuck working through Black Friday.