Cross-Border Shopping: Black Friday Comes To Canada To Keep Consumers At Home

Black Friday Cross Border Shopping

First Posted: 11/25/11 04:30 AM ET Updated: 11/25/11 06:35 PM ET

MONTREAL - Canadian bargain hunters took a decidedly more docile approach to Black Friday than their sharp-elbowed American cousins, some of whom had to brave brawling rivals and pepper spray for coveted deals on the biggest U.S. shopping day of the year.

There were no reports of iPod eye-gouging or fashion-fuelled fist fights north of the border — just eternally patient Canadians lining up at border crossings for door-crasher deals in the country where Christmas shopping has become a full-contact sport.

"I hope to achieve some good deals and save some money on Christmas presents," said Karen Wood, of Hamilton, Ont., as she waited at the Lewiston–Queenston Bridge near Niagara Falls, Ont., to cross into the U.S.

"Even if we have to pay duty, it's not that much."

But what if you have to wear riot gear?

At a Walmart in Los Angeles, police said a shopper looking for a competitive edge used pepper spray on her rivals "in order to get an advantage" when staff members began unpacking a crate of discounted Xbox game consoles.

Ten people suffered cuts and bruises in the chaos, and 10 others had minor injuries from the spray, authorities said.

The woman got away in the confusion, either with or without an Xbox — police couldn't say.

Two women were injured and a man was charged after a fight broke out at a Walmart in upstate New York Walmart. And a man was arrested in a scuffle at a jewelry counter at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Fla.

There were no reports of similar mayhem in Canada — indeed, many shoppers didn't even seem aware of the concept of Black Friday, which until recently has been an exclusively American phenomenon.

Others, however, appeared willing to embrace the bargains.

"I wasn't quite aware of it until this morning when I went to the mall," said 29-year-old Crystal Fudge, who stumbled upon Black Friday deals in Halifax quite by accident.

"There's quite a few sales, so I took advantage of it. I came here to get one thing and I continued to shop because there were great sales."

In Toronto, some big chain stores were making sales early in the morning, with one big-box toy store in attracting a lineup of about 40 people before its doors opened at 7 a.m. ET.

But once open, the Toys "R" Us store was able to easily accommodate the enthusiastic early birds without any of the crowding or frenzy experienced at some American locations.

At Toronto's best-known shopping destination, the downtown Eaton Centre, Black Friday had a low-key feel even though shoppers seemed aware of the day from media ads and some said they planned to take advantage of the discounts.

"Everyone goes over to Buffalo or whatever on Black Friday, so it's good that they're bringing it here," said Julia McCoy, who said she planned to take advantage of the sales.

As she handed out flyers outside a Sears store at the Eaton Centre, Rania Atabani said the Black Friday pitch appeared to be luring customers.

"It's really busy, crazy busy," Atabani said.

Still, few people seemed laden down with packages from stores advertising special sales, and several said they would not be doing any extraordinary shopping because of the discounts.

Rosie Collins said she didn't really know much about Black Friday and had only come to the Eaton Centre to do a birthday lunch with friends.

Inside Sears, Grant Power rustled through some shoes without buying any.

He said said he didn't fully understand why Black Friday had come to Canada.

"I just thought it was an American thing," Power said. "I guess it's a way for retailers to pull in some money."

Vanessa Delzingaro, a teacher, brought her social-issues class to hand out "buy nothing" stickers in an effort to raise awareness about rampant consumerism:

"Black Friday as a concept coming to Canada _ I find it completely disgusting because it just means U.S. consumer values are now really affecting us," Delzingaro said.

But in Regina, Ellen Wiggins was happy to join a small line-up at a Canadian Tire store to get a good deal on a coffee maker.

“I’ve been pricing it out for months now and I’m like, ‘Oh! It’s on for 35 per cent off’! So I’m, like, OK I’ll go in a buy it.”

Canadian retailers are trying to keep shoppers away from cross-border shopping with deals of their own.

Sears Canada spokesman Vincent Power said the retail chain started its Black Friday weekend sale on Thursday with a positive customer response that he expects to continue.

Canadian shoppers will respond to good deals at home, Power said.

"I think more and more Canadians are asking themselves whether a trip across the border is worth it _ fill up with gas, long lines, feeding themselves, long waiting time coming home, pay duty and taxes, home late, refill gas, etc, etc.," he said.

"If Canadian retailers can provide compelling offers, Canadians will recognize the value."

"We’ve seen a very strong response to our Black Friday event," said Walmart Canada spokeswoman Susan Schutta.

"Our customers started shopping at Walmart.ca as soon as our exclusive online deals became available at midnight, and customers were lined up outside waiting for our stores to open at 7 a.m. this morning."

Future Shop spokesman Elliott Chun said Black Friday gives consumers a chance to shop early for the holidays.

"With people looking for deals and becoming more aware of the U.S. version of Boxing Day, which is their Black Friday, it's gaining more momentum year-over year," Chun said.

"We see it as a great opportunity to capture some of that Canadian audience that's aware of the term and looking for a great deal to get some of their holiday shopping done."

Toys R Us spokeswoman Victoria Spada said sales have been going well since the retail outlet opened at 7 a.m. ET.

"Obviously there are some great items on for half price so a lot of people are getting their shopping done and stayed on this side of the border," Spada said.

Sally Ritchie, spokeswoman for the Retail Council of Canada, said she expects retailers north of the border to benefit from Black Friday.

"Folks are so busy they simply don't have time to share with us," Ritchie said. "Some of the sales are pretty darn good so I bet they're doing well, I hope they're doing well."

A Bank of Montreal survey suggests nearly one in five Canadians — 18 per cent — plan to shop in the United States this holiday season, well above last year.

Each year, American retailers open their doors early the day after U.S. Thanksgiving and lure shoppers with deals of up to 70 per cent off on everything from electronics to clothes, home furnishings to toys.

Black Friday — the busiest shopping day of the year when retailers turn a profit for the year, or operate in the "black" — has long been a fixture of the American retail landscape, kicking off the Christmas retail season.

Among the stores planning on Black Friday sales or so-called Cyber Monday online sales are Amazon.ca, Apple.ca, Banana Republic, Best Buy, the Body Shop, Canadian Tire, Chapters and Indigo, Dell.ca, Future Shop, the Gap, Home Outfitters, La Senza, Lululemon Athletica, Old Navy, PetSmart, Sears, Sephora, The Source, Sport Chek, Sport Mart, Toys "R" Us, Walmart and Zellers. To name a few.

Even with the recent drop in the loonie from past parity last month won't deter Canadians from shopping in the United States, says the Bank of Montreal.

"Even at 95 cents, the currency is well above its purchasing power parity value - which is in the low 80-cent range - and will still prompt a lot of cross-border trips by Canadians in the next month," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist of BMO Capital Markets.

The big bank also advised shoppers to keep a spending budget this holiday season and shop smartly — not only by finding bargains but by using credit cards or debit cards that offer rewards on future purchases.

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Filed by Daniel Tencer  |