Black Friday shoppers hunt savings without the frenzy of past years

Shoppers were on the hunt for deals on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border as stores in malls and online hope to carve out a slice of a lucrative week for retailers.

U.S. malls see brisk business but little fanfare as much selling moves online

Shoppers at a Best Buy store in Ottawa partake in some deals on Friday. Black Friday in Canada is still a muted affair, and it seems to be quieter than normal this year. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Shoppers hunted for deals and hit the stores for entertainment Friday as U.S. malls opened for one of the busiest days of the year, even as the start of the holiday season edges ever earlier.

Julie Singewald's Black Friday started at 4 a.m. at an outlet mall. By 6 a.m., she and her two teenagers made it to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. Singewald said she was merely the vehicle — "and sometimes the credit card" — as her daughters worked on their shopping lists.

Increasingly, the 44-year-old is doing more of her shopping online.

"I'm a point-and-click person," she said. "If it were up to me, I would be in my pyjamas and on my computer at home."

Meanwhile, stores like Macy's, Walmart, Target and more were open Thursday evening in what they hope will be a new holiday tradition as they try to fight off competition from online juggernaut Amazon.

Black Friday emerged in the U.S. as a shopping bonanza to kick off the holiday season following that country's statutory holiday on Thursday. While it has grown into a legitimate event in Canada, one retail expert says the day hasn't really taken hold in Canada yet.

That's partly because "retailers have made it not just Black Friday day — it's Black Friday week," says Maureen Atkinson, a senior partner with retail consultancy Global Retail Advisors. "If it's going to be busy at the mall and you can get it next week, why bother?" she said. "I think we are kind of seeing a bit of a downturn."

Low loonie depressing sales

And the weak loonie is playing a part, too.

"Two years back when the dollar was at par you could've gotten a good deal," said Montrealer Arithra Debnath, shopping at a Best Buy electronics store in that city. "If you go to the U.S. Black Friday deals are so much better," he said. "I wish I could go … down south and buy it from there."

Fellow Best Buy shopper Franco Chung agrees. "If you compare to last year or the United States it's not really worth it."

Brisk business in U.S.

American shoppers, meanwhile, have no such complaint, but even they are finding the frenzy is less than in previous years partly because of the rise of online shopping.

"It was a really good start. But I have never seen Black Friday morning so calm," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD Group, a market research firm, who visited malls on Long Island. He believes the weekend's sales will likely rise from last year because shoppers did lots of buying, including pricey flat-screen TVs.

This weekend is crucial to set the tone for the holiday season. Around 137 million Americans plan to or are considering doing their shopping during the Thanksgiving weekend, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. That includes online and store shopping.

Online sales are growing in Canada, too. So-called "Cyber Week will generate a phenomenal number of orders this year, and is a big reason we're expecting record-breaking parcel volumes this holiday season," Canada Post vice-president René Desmarais said in a release.

"A lot of Canadians wait to make their purchases, knowing that Cyber Week deals and promotions will save them money."

Sales expected to rise

The NRF, the largest retail group in the U.S., expects holiday sales to rise 3.6 per cent for November and December, better than the three per cent growth seen for those months last year. That excludes car sales, gas and restaurant receipts. But it includes online spending and other non-store sales such as catalogue spending.

In Rhode Island, shoppers who arrived after sunrise at the Garden City outdoor shopping mall in Cranston said they were glad their state, along with Massachusetts and Maine, doesn't let retailers open on Thanksgiving Day.

"I don't like the idea of it," said Lauren Glynn. "I feel bad for the people who have to work."

She and her husband, who are restaurateurs, came to the Cranston mall for fun, to soak up the experience and maybe find a few deals, but they said they plan to do most of their gift shopping online and at locally owned shops near home.

It's at local shops, Sam Glynn said, where they'll look for "cool knives and glassware, things that have meaning."

In Virginia, Dana Sari says she prefers buying gifts from online catalogues and boutique retailers rather than larger corporations, which she says value her less as a customer.

She's finished her holiday shopping online, but she and her mother continued their decades-old tradition of spending Black Friday together. They arrived at the relatively quiet MacArthur Center mall in Norfolk shortly after 8 a.m. where each bought a coffee and sat near a Nordstrom store.

"It's not so much about the consumerism as it is the quality time with my mother during the holiday season," said Sari, 43, a neuropsychologist who lives in Norfolk.​

With files from CBC News


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