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‘Not like it normally is’: Black Friday shoppers hunt for deals

Canadians report mixed experiences of Black Friday deals
Shoppers wait in line at an electronics store in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Malls and shopping districts were bustling with shoppers in search of Black Friday discounts and a little holiday cheer, despite an abundance of sales earlier in the fall and ongoing worries over the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the East Coast, the Halifax Shopping Centre had a festive atmosphere as customers clutching shopping bags snapped photos in front of a towering Christmas tree while others watched the crowds from a café in the mall.

Yet the discounts were hit and miss. One shopper describing the deals as “really bad” while others emerged from the mall laden with bags and boxes of gifts.

“It’s not like it normally is,” Kim McLeod said of the Black Friday sales. “We just got a couple of specific things.”

Shopper Nick Dempsey said he had already bought most of what he needed online but came to the mall to “fill in the blanks.”

“I do the majority of my holiday shopping online but I like to take advantage of Black Friday and come in and see what people are doing and what deals there are,” he said. “I’m a big fan of Christmas music and some stores play it … it adds to the holiday spirit.”

While shoppers showed up at a Best Buy outside Halifax, it was a far cry from the hectic crowds and jammed parking lot that marked previous Black Fridays.

Shopper Alex Knights said the discounts were “pretty good” on some products.

“It depends on what you’re getting,” he said. “But you can check the deals online before you come in. I found a speaker with a subwoofer and it was $100 off.”

Ian Leslie went to Best Buy to get a gift for his son.

“I could have ordered it online but now it’s in my hand, so I don’t have to worry about supply issues or shipping delays,” he said.

Leslie said his concerns about inventory shortages and supply chain constraints prompted him to shop early this year.

“I’m just finishing my holiday shopping today,” he said. “I did probably half online and half in stores.”

Stores have been rolling out discounts for weeks, encouraging consumers to buy early to avoid potential product shortages.

The situation has accelerated so-called Black Friday creep, a trend that started before the pandemic in which retailers try to maximize sales by pushing discounts earlier into the fall.

Retail experts say online sales are expected to remain strong this year and even grow slightly from 2020, with services like curbside pickup remaining popular.

But Anwar White with McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management said many consumers will continue to shop at stores during the holidays.

“There is still something special about Black Friday and there are still people that are going to be actually going out,” he said. “But it won’t be hugely driven by the sales. When you shop on Black Friday there is an energy that is unmatched and it really does say ‘OK, now it’s Christmastime.’”

Bradley Jones, head of retail for Oxford Properties — which owns 10 shopping centres including Square One, Yorkdale and Scarborough Town Centre in Ontario — said the holiday ambience is a big draw for shoppers.

“All of our Christmas decor is back, our safe Santa experience is set up and we have the music in the mall that puts people in the spirit,” he said. “The retailers are feeling optimism because they’re seeing customers coming back.”

Suvi Rajah, who was at the Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, said she and others are not only shopping on Black Friday because prices are better, but also because it’s a tradition and people are trying to make up for last year’s pandemic lockdowns that closed malls.

“I just need to get out,” she said. “Buying is … a comfort thing, not necessarily that we need the things (we buy.)”

Rajah picked up a shirt, but didn’t find it more affordable than it would be on other days. However, she felt she got a good deal on makeup.

Jera Bitto, a University of Toronto student, was also at the mall, where shoppers lined up outside clothing and makeup stores.

Bitto, who tends to leave her purchases until she can find a deal, was hunting for presents for her school friends.

“Usually I don’t shop. I only shop when things are cheap,” she said. “I think today is kind of cheap.”

— with files from Maan Alhmidi in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press