The name might lack colour, but as Black Friday approaches, retailers will be pulling out all shades of promotional glitz as they vie for consumer attention.
Black Friday is the Friday following the Thanksgiving Day holiday in the U.S., and it is regarded as the unofficial kick-off to the holiday shopping season.
Traditionally, eager Canadian shoppers have prepared for long waits at the border seeking cheap U.S. deals in preparation for Christmas.
This annual exodus of patrons and their money means a significant dip in sales for businesses north of the parallel, with this Nov. 29 being no exception.
However, in reaction to the southbound surge, local retailers are increasingly taking their own measures to keep Canadians shopping at home.
“Ultimately [lowering prices] keeps people here,” says Tim Wagner, owner and operator of Soccer West in White Rock.
“It’s pretty hard to get the individual to see the loyalty in keeping your dollars local. Bottom line, it comes down to what they can save.”
Wagner will be running the store’s second official Black Friday sale after getting positive response last year. He says people remembered the sale and have been asking about it again.
Following up on that success, Wagner is promoting his deals more this year, hoping the event will help drive more customers to Soccer West.
But Bob Krider, a professor of marketing at SFU’s Beedie School of Business warns, “if you’re going to offer big discounts, you’ve got to get an increase in demand to compensate, because otherwise you’re going to lose money.”
The expert on competition dynamics and consumer biases says he’s not sure if Canadian businesses can go head-to-head with Black Friday. If they want to try, he adds, they’ll have to make the deals look as exciting as their American counterparts do.
And as Anita Huberman, executive director at the Surrey Board of Trade notes, Canadian and U.S. retailers “are not playing on a level competitive field.”
The variety of products and much lower prices across the border combined with the soft economy add up to people still willing to wait in line at the Peace Arch border crossing, Huberman says.
“I think throughout the year, we need to have a much more consistent approach to marketing,” she says.
“It’s about thinking innovatively around how to get that consumer in the door, but also to keep them coming back. And in the end it’s all about service.”
One person who believes strongly in customer service is Brent Bondarenko, co-owner of Kitchen Therapy, a kitchen product retailer in Grandview Corners just minutes by car from the U.S. border.
“We’re a store that’s incredibly personable,” says Bondarenko. “We understand what it is to give exemplary customer service, which we don’t do on a Black Friday [specifically]. We do it all year round.”
Bondarenko keeps his staff motivated to be helpful and listen to patrons, focusing on repeat customers through relationship building. Kitchen Therapy participates in supplier promotions instead, foregoing Black Friday and similar calendar events, he says.
Other businesses see the U.S. shopping occasion as an opportunity.
Central City Shopping Centre has added a sidewalk sale that runs more than a week, ending the Sunday after Black Friday.
“If we have something exciting happening in our own backyard then more shoppers will say ‘Yeah, we’ll take advantage of that,’” says Bill Rempel, vice-president and general manager of Blackwood Partners, the company managing the mall.
The sidewalk sale is a hit with both his tenants and their customers, says Rempel. And big stores like Best Buy and The Brick will use the event as a chance to promote their upcoming Boxing Day sales.
While it remains to be seen if the various retailer initiatives will slow the stream of shoppers going south, they will certainly make for a more colourful Black Friday in Canada this year.