BUSINESS

Malls open early as bargain hunters head out for Boxing Day shopping blitz

12/26/2014 04:00 EST | Updated 02/24/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Shoppers hit the stores in most of Canada on Friday weaving their way through the throngs of people trying to snap up traditional Boxing Day deals.

Toronto's downtown Eaton Centre mall was one of several major malls across Canada opening their doors earlier than usual to accommodate bargain hunters.

Twenty-four-year-old Michelle McMullen made the trip with her mother, snapping up three bags full of new clothes in under an hour.

"We know what we want. Go in, manoeuvre around the large crowds in the stores, grab our stuff and get to the front as soon as possible. Try not to try too much stuff on because that will slow you down," she said.

Despite scoring some sought-after items, McMullen said she thought the savings weren't as significant as she'd hoped.

Still, the outing gave her a chance to spend time with her mother — a ritual they've kept up for 12 years, she said.

"It can bring people closer together," McMullen said. "I guess (there's) a little consumerism in me but it's definitely a bonding experience."

"My mom's pretty good. She's pretty quick but sometimes she slows me down."

A online survey commissioned by cash-back shopping site Ebates.ca found that about 40 per cent of Canadians plan to shop on Boxing Day.

While the day typically brings out the crowds, the Retail Council of Canada has said holiday promotions are more like a marathon than a sprint, since many stores also take part in earlier Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals.

Kyle Granes said the bargains he spotted were underwhelming when compared to deals on Black Friday, a relatively recent addition to price-slashing promotional events at Canadian stores.

"Which makes no sense, considering this is Christmas — this is one of the biggest festivals for shopping," he said while waiting for his girlfriend in a clothing store.

Joe Halabi, 46, was passing through town on a family trip from Edmonton and braved the bustling Eaton Centre — which he said paled in comparison to the shopping frenzy at the West Edmonton Mall.

He wasn't blown away by the sales, he said, and questioned whether Boxing Day is really that big a deal for discounts.

"I think it's more of a gimmick (for) the owners of the stores to get rid of their old product or even some of the stuff that's been sitting there for a bit," he said.

"There is the odd deal but you've got to be smart how to shop."

In Edmonton, Arlene Brownridge said she and her family circled West Edmonton Mall in their truck but decided against going in, opting instead to check out a Future Shop close to the city's downtown.

"It was a zoo," Brownridge said of the city's giant mall. "It was just way too crowded."

Duc Vu, who loaded a new microwave into his minivan outside the Future Shop, said part of his Boxing Day shopping experience involved comparing prices on items he'd already purchased before Christmas.

"Boxing Day is a tradition. People expect they'll get a good deal," said Vu. "Everybody tries to get what they want with the best deal. It makes it exciting. That's what I think."

In downtown Vancouver, the vibrant Granville Street strip crawled with small groups of purchase-laden teenagers and 20-somethings, emitting the vibe of a festive social gathering.

Hendrik Beune, 63, watched cliques pass while selling a charity calendar called Hope in Shadows for his 12th consecutive year and said the day's purpose appears to be transforming.

"In the past it always has been a bargain-hunting thing, although now, Black Friday has sort of taken that over," he said. "I didn't hear about any big lineups at six o'clock in the morning or anything like that. So it's not that big a deal any more, it seems.

"I don't know, maybe all the adults are in church. It is second Christmas Day after all. It's more a family day, I think."

Alec Yu, 18, and two fellow university students fundraising for a refugee assistance phone line observed the same trend from a bustling intersection kitty-corner to some big-box stores.

"Even though it's more convenient and easier to get things online, the quality time we're spending with our friends and loved ones is missing. Boxing Day gives us this excuse to do that," he said.

Yu encouraged more volunteers to take positive advantage of the evolving holiday.

"Having this sort of (charity) thing out here today, where a lot of friends are together, they're having fun, and they want to get some doughnuts, they want to support a good cause — it's definitely something worth looking into."

Most stores in Atlantic Canada don't open Boxing Day so bargain hunters on the east coast get their chance on Saturday.

— With files from Tamsyn Burgmann in Vancouver and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton