Canadian shoppers, always on the lookout for a bargain, look to push Black Friday sales into unprecedented territory this week.
The promotional blitz that spread from the U.S., in large part as Canadian retailers tried to stem cross-border shopping, has been centred on the last Friday in November, right after American Thanksgiving.
This year, though, the deep discount push is morphing into a Black Friday week as Canadian retailers scramble for every available dollar in a highly competitive market.
"This might actually be the first year where Black Friday could surpass Boxing Day as the big shopping holiday for Canadians," says Jeff Novak, brand director at RedFlagDeals.com.
The website and app for bargain hunters has seen significant growth in the number of retailers wanting Black Friday flyers posted.
"When we first started posting Black Friday deals in 2007, we posted about two deals," said Novak. "Last year we posted over 200, and the trend seems to be going up."
Some statistics suggest Canadian shoppers are doing more holiday shopping earlier than they used to.
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"We've seen a bit of shift in when retail sales have been at their strongest, earlier into November, rather than right around Christmas time," says BMO senior economist Robert Kavcic.
"You can see that in the retail numbers if you look at things that typically go on sale during Black Friday."
Sales at electronics and appliance stores have been rising more than normal in November, and then falling a little more than normal in December, Kavcic said, noting Statistics Canada figures that show December sales of electronics down six per cent in 2012 and nine per cent in 2013.
But the seasonally adjusted figures show electronics sales have increased almost seven per cent in each of the last two Novembers.
"It does look like there's a shift out of December into November," Kavcic says.
But any shift in consumer spending doesn't necessarily translate into a complete demise of Boxing Day.
Kavcic thinks most of the broader shift of spending from December to November is pre-Christmas spending being pulled into November when the Black Friday sales come up, "not necessarily Boxing Day but there probably might be some impact there, too."
Upping the ante
At RedFlagDeals, Novak is waiting to see if consumers do spend more of their money on Black Friday this year, and what effect that might have on Boxing Day, but he doesn't see that day as totally doomed.
"The one big difference especially in Canada is that Boxing Day is a holiday … whereas Black Friday in Canada — people have to go to work on Friday."
Whatever the impact on Boxing Day, there's little doubt retailers have been upping the ante on their promotions this month.
"This is really the first year in Canada that we're seeing pre-Black Friday specials come out," says Novak.
Wal-Mart has a flyer promoting pre-Black Friday deals on everything from smart TVs to tool sets, which expires on Wednesday — two days before Black Friday. Danier's Black Friday sale is already pushing online deals for leather jackets and gloves.
Indigo Books + Music sent out an email promotion touting an "online exclusive" pre-Black Friday sale for three days last week.
"It's become a Black Friday week as opposed to a Black Friday day," says Maureen Atkinson, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group, a retail and marketing consulting firm.
"Retailers have found it very difficult to motivate consumers to buy and so … the fallback I think is to put something on sale."
For the first time, Future Shop is promoting an "early Black Friday sale" on appliances, which runs until Thursday.
"These promotional days are just getting more popular year over year," says communications manager Elliott Chun.
"It's being reflected strongly in our sales as well as being reflected in the number of clicks [on the company website] and foot traffic that we're seeing for Future Shop."
Chun says Future Shop has seen double-digit percentage sales growth for Black Friday weekend and what's called Cyber Monday, the following Monday.
"It's become a clear No. 2 sales period behind our Boxing Week sale."
Still, rolling out Black Friday deals earlier and for a longer period of time is no guarantee of a bonanza for retailers, and runs the risk of diluting the impact of the promotion.
"It just puts it over more than one day and it means that people will be less inclined to rush right out and get it because they'll always figure that it's going to be there," says Atkinson.
She also thinks Black Friday will evolve into an online event.
"It used to be with Black Friday you had to be in the store to get those deals, and now a lot of retailers are allowing people to buy them online," Atkinson says.
"I think that's an issue for Canadian retailers because of course there's a lot of Canadians who buy online from American websites."