Hamilton shoppers eyeing up a Black Friday trip to Buffalo can expect long waits at the borders this weekend, and more incentives than ever to stay at home and spend money in the city.
A Canadian Border Services Agency chart shows the peak waiting time to cross into Buffalo on Black Friday is 45 minutes long, but you could be stuck waiting longer. This year, you can actually check the crossing's new Twitter account to see how traffic is moving.
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CBSA spokeswoman Nancy Thomson said a high volume of traffic is expected again this year, driven by cross-border shopping as well as several sporting events just south of the border.
In 2013, over 6,000 vehicles carrying 13,421 people crossed at Fort Erie. During the long weekend, Thursday to Sunday, almost 60,000 people crossed the Peace Bridge.
'They’re competing against the big guys every day.' - Carlo Gorni, Concession St. BIA executive director
"It can be a nightmare crossing the border," said Stephen Fine, President of Crossbordershopping.ca, a website that consolidates information on the topic.
Fine's site even recommends getting a hotel on the American side on Wednesday, to avoid fighting the traffic on Thursday night or Friday morning.
Fine, who often shops in the U.S. himself, says despite the slumping Canadian dollar the number of cross-border shoppers on Black Friday continues to grow, and that he expects another busy weekend ahead.
"Obviously price is the main thing," Fine said, adding shopper’s also value the selection of shops.
The main purchases: big-ticket items like electronics, household appliances and then a lot of clothing, as well, Fine said. Essentially, shoppers are looking for prices where they can save hundreds of dollars at a time.
Hamilton mall takes aim at Black Friday madness
Meanwhile, local retailers are upping their Black Friday game to compete.
'Find outfits you fall for, not fight for.' - Limeridge Mall's Black Friday sale slogan
Lime Ridge Mall has been offering free, style consultations in the lead-up to Black Friday, a tactic designed to offer customers a better shopping experience than they’d have in the U.S.
The sale’s tagline: "Find outfits you fall for, not fight for."
Cadillac Fairview, the company that runs the mall, is also offering extended shopping hours, from 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. As for price, that’s up to the retailers themselves, but many have already released special promotions — which can be found here.
Adam Stewart, the mall’s marketing manager, said the amount of shoppers doubled from 2012 to 2013 as Black Friday really cemented itself as an important shopping date for Hamiltonians.
"We’re expecting record amounts of traffic this year," he said.
Boxing Day remains the busiest day for the mall, but Stewart said Black Friday is not far behind.
Fine said Canadian retailers will have a big weekend, but that won’t stop customers from crossing the border.
"To be honest, I think that when it comes to price and selection they’re not going to be able to compete," Fine said.
"The draw is just too big, I think."
Customers still shopping really local, online
Carlo Gorni, the executive director of the Concession Street BIA, said his organization leaves it up to individual stores to decide if they want to throw Black Friday sales.
"All businesses are unique. They know their customers and customer base better than anyone," he said, noting many are "destination visits" for loyal, local shoppers.
Gorni said no business owners from the BIA — one of the largest in Hamilton — have expressed concern about the power of cross-border shopping, even as Canadians glom onto the Black Friday tradition.
"They’re competing against the big guys every day."
A huge number of shoppers will be skipping the stores altogether this year, according to The Canadian Press.
One in three Canadians will shop online, an Ipsos Reid poll found.
The poll results also suggest this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which falls on Dec. 1 this year, shopping days could be bigger than ever in Canada, with 44 per cent of poll respondents indicating they plan to shop on one of those two days.
Fine said another growing trend is customers shopping online with U.S. retailers and shipping the goods to an address near the border, then going across and picking it up.
He said according to his numbers, almost 50 per cent of the people who shop across the border in person will also shop online in the States.