Canadian retailers try their own Black Friday

Some Canadian retail chains are planning big price cuts this weekend in an effort to keep customers from crossing the U.S. border to take advantage of Black Friday bargains.

Some Canadian retail chains are planning big price cuts this weekend in an effort to keep customers from crossing the U.S. border to take advantage of Black Friday bargains.

Wal-Mart's Canadian subsidiary has announced it will drop prices on some items. Sears Canada and Future Shop are also planning big weekend sales to hold on to shoppers.

"Everyone likes a good deal and we recognize that," Elliott Chun, Future Shop's communication manager, said in an interview with CBC News.

The electronics retail chain is cutting prices over the weekend on everything from video games to washers and dryers, although Chun said he did wonder if people would go all the way to the U.S. to buy such large items.

"The customer has to ask themselves … there's the cost of the gas, then the time and effort to cross the border. And then there's a chance you won't get your hands on the product you want," said Chun.

"We're just doing our best to give Canadians an opportunity to stay here and shop, and hopefully shop at Future Shop."

Border business

Windsor retailers don't dread Black Friday, as much as one would think, given the city's proximity to Detroit across the river.

"Traditionally Black Friday is an American holiday, but we do get the spinoffs," said Blair Gagné, manager of the Windsor Crossing outlet mall. "The people who wake up at 5:30 in the morning and go shopping in the states. They come back over here because they're still in the mood to shop."

"We find that mall tenants have provided more discounts here than they have in the past, and it's really benefited us. Our traffic has been up, our sales have been up, and people are looking for that bargain," said Gagné.

Some Canadian shoppers were content to leave the hassle of cross-border lineups to others.

"I was not very interested to go over, being that what I need to get is here. Again, I'm a Canadian. If I do something here, that will make me happy, using my money here. I'm living here," said Windsor resident Shah Alam.

However, CBC's Dennis Porter said plenty of Canadians were prepared to make the trip and boost the U.S. economy in the process.

"It's close enough that a lot of Canadians can actually go over to Detroit, take advantage of some of the great deals overnight and be back in Windsor in time to go to work this morning," said Porter.

"A lot of the products are about 50 per cent less in Detroit [on Black Friday] than they are in Windsor, even in the same store," said Porter. "So, for instance, at Wal-Mart, in the U.S., they have a laptop for $200 US. In Canada, at Wal-Mart, that same laptop about $370."

On Friday, retailers across the U.S. opened as early as midnight for the busiest shopping day in the U.S.

Black Friday, the first Friday after the American Thanksgiving, marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and is considered the day when store ledgers are pushed into "the black," or profitability.

Sales during Black Friday and the weekend following can account for as much as 40 per cent of annual sales and profits for many stores.

Shopping mobs

U.S. retailers now mark the day by offering low prices on a range of products, and mobs of shoppers who want to take advantage of the bargains line up hours before stores open. Some people even camp out overnight.

Last year, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death as shoppers stampeded into a store at Valley Stream, N.Y.

This year was tamer, with few injuries reported across the U.S.

At the Toys "R" Us store in Manhattan's Times Square, people lined up 200 deep in anticipation of the midnight opening — five hours earlier than a year ago. Some were tourists who got in line right after watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade; others were New Yorkers wanting to get a good deal on game systems or get their hands on this year's toy craze, Zhu Zhu Pets robotic hamsters.

In suburban Cincinnati, shoppers began streaming into a Wal-Mart Supercenter around midnight to pick up tickets that can be traded directly at the register for certain big items like sale-priced televisions and computers. The tickets, which usually have an expiry time, are used by some stores as a way of limiting the chaos inside the store and streamlining the purchase of some popular items.

By 4 a.m. shoppers were packed into the Wal-Mart alongside shrink-wrapped merchandise, including toys, that was not to be unveiled until 5 a.m. Most of the low prices had an expiry time of 11 a.m.

"The economy has affected my shopping," said Patricia Foy of Cincinnati who had been at the store since 11:30 p.m. Thursday with her three daughters and four granddaughters. "I wanted to get out and get the good prices.

"I'm mostly shopping for my kids and grandkids, but I also decided to treat myself this year, because I'm one of the lucky ones. I've still got a job."

After suffering the worst sales decline in several decades last holiday season, the good news is that the U.S. retail industry is heading into the Christmas selling period armed with lean inventories and more practical goods on their shelves that reflect shoppers' new mood.

The promotional blitz typical for the traditional start of the holiday shopping season has high stakes for retailers who've suffered through a year of sales declines. It's also important for the broader economy, which could use a kick-start from consumer spending.

With files from The Associated Press