Joseph Lopez: Green with envy on Black Friday
As most Americans eagerly await Thanksgiving Day , what of course is in the minds of many is the day after—Black Friday. The giddying sales—although there are steeper discounts throughout the year—and the adrenalin of being part of a crowd rushing at mall gates at ungodly hours, can you get any more euphoric than that?
But the key word is the third word in the first paragraph above: Americans. On both sides of the U.S. border, a good number of Canadians and Mexicans are bewildered or green with envy. Having lived in all three North Americas, the reasons why shopping in the States is considered nirvana, even cheaper than Mexico, and definitely bargain by Canadian standards, are not necessarily as complex as some media would sound byte in their early evening news.
In Mexico, to begin with, there is no Thanksgiving Day. There are fiestas but these are local celebrations usually as a religious homage. And although many wares are definitely cheaper aqui than El Norte, the idea of a sale is seen more as a haggled bargain in the local market where quality can be hit and miss. And often the return policy is no returns at all. Sales are El Final! Of course one can drive across La Frontera, but getting a visa (first step) and then an I-94 (which “can” allow you entry if the U.S. border officer so decides) is a hurdle for many.
In Canada our Thanksgiving Day—more than a full month earlier than the States, the second Monday of October—the air is still more summer than late fall, unless you are closer to the Arctic. There is work the following Tuesday making it a three-day-only long weekend—as opposed to the unofficial four days south of the border (Thursday to Sunday—most companies close on that Friday, Black Friday, except department stores/shopping malls). And these two calendar variations make a huge, huge difference. A heavy belly-busting meal is not so pacifying when one knows there is work or school the next day.
But even if Tuesday is a holiday, there can be no Black Tuesday in Canada in the same league as the American Black Friday. For one basic economic tenet—lack of competition. When the two major electronic shops are owned by the same company (Best Buy and Future Shop); when there is really one major department store across the country (Hudson's Bay); when most supermarkets are under the flagship of only a few mother corporations—then there is no need to compete or entice customers with drastic markdowns. Unless of course the marketing strategy is to have a substantial mark up to begin with, wowing the public later with a big screaming SALE—which in many cases is still higher than the regular price in the States for exactly the same brand and item.
But what some sectors in Canada have been pointing out as the culprit—the uncompetitive U.S. vs. Canadian dollar exchange (even though in the past year the exchange was near or at parity or even stronger for the Canadian currency); smaller market size, meaning smaller orders from suppliers and less of a deal; and other local market conditions—just do not hold water for the huge gap in prices when you do the math. What no one wants to admit is that many retailers above the 49th parallel, not all, tag hefty markups. Unfortunately it is the Canadian resident without a car and/or without a U.S. visa who has to deal with a higher cost of living.
Now to our neighbours south—be happy this U.S. Thanksgiving weekend because one turkey up here is likely double the price you are paying. Not to mention the gas.