Black Friday—known as the biggest one-day shopping blitz in North America—was long thought of as an American tradition.
Falling this year on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving on November 24, it launches the holiday retail season with door-crasher specials and, sometimes, stampeding crowds.
In recent years, it has also become a far more popular annual event in Canada, which is also home to massive annual Boxing Day and “Boxing Week” sales.
According to Vancouver retail consultant David Ian Gray, Black Friday migrated across the border following the 2008 global financial meltdown when revenue-hungry U.S. corporations instructed Canadian subsidiaries to launch these sales.
“Once a few started, other Canadian big boxes then followed,” Gray explained to the Georgia Straight. “In the shaky economy of 2010—and with media building this into a national retail campaign—specialty chains jumped onboard.”
In a report last year, Gray’s company, DIG360 Consulting, and the polling company Leger found that of 1,578 Canadians surveyed, almost one-third purchased at least one bargain item on Black Friday in 2016.
The report also noted that those between the ages of 25 and 44 participated in Black Friday store and online shopping at the same rate as those between the ages of 18 and 24.
“This is the time for self-gifting,” Gray and Leger noted in their report. “Forty-one percent of Canadians browsing or buying on Black Friday weekend were mostly shopping for themselves, which is more likely to impact Boxing Day than gift-buying for others in December.”
Gray noted that in 2013, only 38 percent of Canadians browsed or purchased goods advertised on Black Friday on Canadian websites. By 2016, this had risen to 56 percent.
There’s been a corresponding drop—73 percent to 46 percent—in store visits on Black Friday over the same period. According to Gray, this has made so-called Cyber Monday (November 27) less relevant on the retail calendar.
That has retailers trying to come up with imaginative ways to get real live human beings into their stores.
Valet Parking comes to West 4th Avenue
In an effort to boost store visits on Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season, the Kitsilano West 4th Business Improvement Association is offering free valet parking on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. This will take place from noon to 6 p.m. at the corner of Maple Street and West 4th Avenue.
According to the association’s executive director, Jane McFadden, shoppers who use the service will receive a complimentary hot chocolate or coffee at Cafe Gypsy Rose or 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters in the neighbourhood. In return, motorists can make donations to Canuck Place.
It’s part of the association’s annual “Kitsmas” celebration, which features mistletoe in all the stores and four mailboxes on the street that will accept letters to Santa Claus.
The Black Friday weekend sales will kick things off in a big way.
“We now have 22 outdoor stores,” McFadden said. “So it’s a great time for them to slash prices on ski gear, snowboard gear, outerwear, and all the accessories to go with it.”
Along West 4th Avenue east of Burrard Street, stores like Comor, Pacific Boarder, RYU, and the Boardroom will be duking it out for shoppers’ attention. Farther west, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, North Face, and other clothing retailers will also be offering Black Friday deals.
Even Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream is getting involved in Black Friday, offering a second scoop for free.
“Almost all of my merchants are onboard for it,” McFadden said.
Choirs will converge on Gastown next month
It’s a similar story in Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood.
According to Leanore Sali, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Society, more than 35 stores will be offering Black Friday specials.
One of the biggest sales will take place at Army & Navy, which bills itself as Canada’s original discount department store.
Sali told the Straight that Gastown is home to many locally owned boutiques with products unavailable anywhere else in the city.
“Our retailers don’t hold sales that often, so it’s a great opportunity.”
One of Gastown’s most popular attractions over the holidays is the annual Yule Duel, in which 23 choirs will converge on the neighbourhood from 6 to 9 p.m. on December 7. Jen Hodge All Stars and Marcus Mosely will perform on-stage as part of this effort to bring visitors to the neighbourhood.
For those who prefer big-name labels, there’s always McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver, which is a 20-minute Canada Line ride from downtown beside Templeton Station. It’s a village setting with more than 70 stores near Vancouver International Airport.
McArthurGlen Vancouver general manager Robert Thurlow told the Straight that for those who haven’t visited in a while, there’s a new Kate Spade store, a new Armani Exchange store, and an expanded Hugo Boss outlet.
McArthurGlen Vancouver is also home to the only Polo Ralph Lauren store in B.C. and the province’s first Under Armour outlet.
“We have a lot of unique brands,” Thurlow said.
He has witnessed firsthand how Black Friday has caught on in Canada. It’s reflected in total sales at McArthurGlen during the annual blowout. And with a low Canadian dollar relative to the U.S. greenback, he is feeling optimistic about this year’s prospects.
“We saw a 26-percent increase in 2016 over 2015,” Thurlow said. “We’re predicting the same kind of number this year for 2017 over last year for Black Friday itself.”
But as bright as things may seen, DIG360 Consulting's Gray cautioned that in retailing, every trend has a countertrend. And this year, one U.S. retailer, outdoor clothing company REI, is opting out of Black Friday, and there's a chance that others may follow suit in the coming years.
"Tomorrow, REI is skipping the Black Friday frenzy," the REI website states. "We're closing our stores and giving employees a paid day off."
According to Gray, Black Friday mostly centres on department stores or other retailers that sell many different products.
"They still have the promotional budget to hype it," he stated. "They can have a feature on a sale that can spill over to other items on a more regular or typical discount. Shoppers like it when upscale brands have a discount."More