Step right up
You think you’re so smart, Uncle Sam? Well, Canadian Tire has news for you.
The Canadian retailer sees your Black Friday and raises you a Red Thursday.
That’s how far the recently adopted American tradition has come in Canada.
Last Friday was Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving. It’s when Christmas shopping is supposed to begin in earnest. And Christmas means retailers with sagging bottom lines finally get back in the black - hence the name.
Canadian Tire’s marketing idea was a master stroke; even the colours - black and red - match its logo. And it’s not something U.S. retailers can steal back, since that particular Thursday will always be a holiday.
While it’s only a recent phenomenon here, Black Friday is a huge day south of the border. Shoppers mob the malls as retailers offer deep discounts. The sales usually last through the weekend, ending with Cyber Monday, a marketing ploy dreamed up by the electronics industry.
According to Maclean’s magazine’s Chris Sorenson, more than half of all Canadians - 19.5 million people - plan to take advantage of the sales.
And a recent IPG Mediabrands survey suggests 1.2 million Canadians even planned to take a sick day last Friday to go shopping. (Let’s hope their bosses aren’t reading this.)
It’s not clear, though, how many would have mosied out to the malls over the weekend despite the discounts. And that’s where Black Friday may not quite live up to its name.
The problem, Sorenson writes, is that stores feel pressured to participate in the discount frenzy, even though it comes at a time of year where most people would be out shopping anyway. So they end up selling off a mound of merchandise without making near the profit they might have had customer expectations not been raised.
Sorenson cites a recent study by Statistics Canada which found the share of annual retail sales in November only nudged up marginally - to 8.5 per cent from 8.4 per cent - since Black Friday first made an appearance on the Canadian shopping scene in 2007.
“It’s a zero-sum game,” Jim Danahy, CEO of Customer Lab, told Maclean’s.
And it’s the kind of game where bigger retailers have an advantage. They’re used to high volume sales anyway, and have room to make the equation work for them.
Smaller businesses are less able to keep up. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s one that’s especially felt this time of year.
There might be no better time to tick those names off your Christmas list.
Just don’t be surprised if smaller retailers don’t appear to be quite as infused with the Christmas spirit.