Plenty of sales, but few crowds as COVID-19 colours Black Friday in B.C.

The sales were on, but at retailers around British Columbia it looked very little like any Black Friday since the annual shopping tradition moved north of the border.

Gone were the door-crasher sales, crowds and busy lineups usually associated with the event, as businesses headed into the make-or-break pre-Christmas month amid COVID-19 concerns.

Read more: B.C.’s small businesses fear cold Christmas amid surging COVID-19 cases

“It was quite weird, because normally at 12 a.m., I would drive by and I would see people with tents and people with their chairs sitting, waiting to get that deal,” said Visions Electronics store manager Jawad Waraich.

His company, which pioneered Black Friday in Canada, pushed many of its deals online, while stretching what would normally be a one-day sale to three days to accommodate shoppers who still want to handle the goods.

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“You’re dealing, for us, one of the biggest sales of the year, so there were for us some anxious moments where you’re thinking, gee, I wonder how this is going to be,” he said.

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“I wonder if they’re going to come out or if they’re going to feel safe to even walk into a store.”

Many did. Customer Scott Brown loaded up on 10 flat-screen TVs for his car dealership, and praised the store’s safety plans.

“It’s good,” he said.

“They’ve done a great job with the social distancing, everyone’s wearing masks, conscious about what we’re supposed to be doing. So it worked out.”

Read more: B.C. reports 11 deaths and 911 new COVID-19 cases, number in hospital tops 300

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But University of Victoria professor of marketing and entrepreneurship Brock Smith said many retailers, especially the local ones, are feeling the pinch.

“Amazon is doing really well this weekend, and the small independents are hurting,” he said.

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Smith said shops took a major hit earlier this year when they loaded up on spring inventory they weren’t able to sell.

Sales recovered somewhat over the summer, but have crashed again amid rising case numbers just ahead of a month worth up to 40 per cent of some businesses’ revenue.

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“I think people are a bit more wary of going out and into the stores,” he said.

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“So you’ve kind of had this big hit early in the year and this big hit late in the year where they’ve stocked up for what should be their biggest sales period of the year, and the customers are just not there.”

Those concerns even had provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry weighing in on the issue at her Friday briefing.

Henry encouraged people to shop, but to do it with a COVID safety plan in mind.

Read more: Black Friday in-store shopping starts quietly across Canada, more online shopping expected

“That means keeping your distance, wearing your mask, washing your hands, keeping your numbers small, keeping local and limit your travel, shop locally, support our local businesses,” she said.

Henry also encouraged people to support local businesses that offer online shopping, and to try to shop at times when stores will be less busy.