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The Results are In: A Lacklustre Black Friday/Cyber Monday in Canada for 2021 Signals What’s in Store

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The prevailing storyline leading up to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping period was that this year was going to be a very strong one for retailers in the country.

But was it really?

David Ian Gray

The Canadian Black Friday/Holiday Survey 2021, by Leger and DIG360, casts some doubt on that sentiment.

“I don’t think it was terribly surprising but I think Black Friday was a bit muted as an exciting sales event. I think it was a bit lacklustre. I think the retailers themselves were not over hyping it and I don’t think they wanted big traffic surges especially in store, especially if they may not have items in stock,” said David Ian Gray, Principal, Retail Strategist, Insights of DIG360.

“So they were kind of trying to have more of a message of just buy often and at a steady pace instead of focusing everything on the big event and the shoppers certainly reacted that way I believe. There was no big spike that occurred and in fact the participation of people both browsing and buying around Black Friday wasn’t terrible but it was a bit off from a peak in 2019.

“The other side of the coin is people were thinking it was going to be dramatically lower because of the pandemic and supply chain that wasn’t the case either. It was just a very steady and stable comp to 2019.”

CF Toronto Eaton Centre on Black Friday 2021 (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Here are some key findings of the report:

  • Actual reported shopping behaviour continues the ongoing shift toward online purchasing at the expense of in-store. Fewer Canadians reported visiting a shopping mall or larger stores and significantly more shoppers said they spent money at online Canadian stores or other online marketplaces;
  • Although Canadians have said in previous surveys that they want to support local/independent stores during the pandemic, reported behaviour has shown no significant growth;
  • Reported Black Friday spending overall remains stagnant; not surprisingly, the shift towards online purchases continues. 2021 reported online spending outpaced in-store by a ratio of 2:1 compared to 2019 findings – particularly for purchase of $100 or less. Price competitiveness, selection availability, convenience and ongoing challenges with store experience are likely reasons for the shift to online;
  • Canadian shoppers express concerns over supply chain disruptions in advance of the holiday season. Roughly half of Canadians are worried supply chain issues impacting their holiday shopping and fear that on-time online delivery for December gift giving may be at risk. A similar proportion heeded the call to begin their shopping earlier this year to avoid delivery disappointments. Inflationary price increases and other supply chain problems related to availability and shipping issues are real-time realities for large majorities of consumers;
  • Perceptions of the value of Black Friday deals, discounts and promotions are decreasing. The proportion of Canadian shoppers reported ‘great deals’ declined from 2018 findings, nearly half reported poor to mediocre deals. This combined with supply chain issues, inflation, and pandemic related reluctance to charge into crowds for ‘door-crashers’ are all potential reasons for a stalled growth of Black Friday engagement;
  • Significant shifts from shopping malls and larger stores to online shopping with two exceptions. Local/independent store shopping has not declined – perhaps barriers presented earlier prevent growth? The percentage of Canadians who crossed the border to shop in person remained consistent with 2019 reported behaviour; and
  • Shoppers report a slight decline in what they perceived to be great Black Friday deals, discounts and promotions with near majorities expressing a lack of impressive opportunities and only 10 per cent feeling like they received excellent deals.

“From the shoppers’ standpoint, no one’s feeling elated and exuberant about shopping these days. Part of let’s call it excessive shopping, and impulsive shopping where you buy more than you intend, that tends to coincide with a sense of enthusiasm if people are in a good, upbeat mood especially for in-store. That’s when they tend to buy more,” said Gray.

Black Friday at Kate Spade (CF Toronto Eaton Centre) Photo by Dustin Fuhs

“So I think just because of the dragging on pandemic we can start with that, people just aren’t in the mood to go over the top. On the retailers’ side, they weren’t doing the big door crashes. In fact, it wouldn’t have been too cool to try and encourage a big crowd to surge a store. The retailers were also aware that the supply chain had so many hiccups that they couldn’t really promote items in advance of sales because they didn’t know they’d have them in stock.

“I think the customers heard that message. The lack of a hype message was connecting with them that they weren’t going over the top. It is the season where people are still traditionally looking to shop. It didn’t go to zero by any means. I mean it was still a big, big week and if you compare it to where things were for the last several months I think traffic was up. But we saw it from other studies coming out back in October saying that this was going to be the best holiday ever and it’s going to be double digit growth. No, that’s not happening. And this (report) bears that out.”

For the industry, Gray said, Black Friday is not great for a lot of retailers. It cuts into margins. It puts an incredible strain on store staff and internal logistics to make things work.

‘The industry created a bit of a monster with that,” said Gray.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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