It’s hard to believe that just a couple of decades ago the vast majority of Canadians (especially those not living near the US border) had never heard of Black Friday. Canadians not-in-the-know were as likely to guess that Black Friday was some kind of American Earth Day effort to turn off all the lights and conserve electricity. While some devoted Canuck super shoppers certainly knew of the legendary USA shopping bonanza, most of us were content to wait until Boxing Day to spend all day at the malls in pursuit of jaw-dropping bargains.
Of course, all that changed with the arrival of the internet: suddenly those American Black Friday deals could no longer be ignored, as they were plastered all over our Canadian computer screens. Anxious to take advantage of lower taxes and incredible sales, we piled into our cars and drove south of the border, depleting our bank accounts as we filled our trunks with electronics, home goods and clothing, all available at rock-bottom prices unseen in Canada.
Black Friday Deal Hunting from Home
As the internet continued to grow, so too did online shopping. With the ever-increasing popularity of internet retailers, fewer Canucks took to their cars to get the best Black Friday deals; rather they turned to their computers to grab their share of cross-border bargains.
Despite our love of bargain-basement prices, Canadian border hopping didn’t really take enough of a bite out of national retailers’ profits to raise any alarms. Our southern shopping sprees were always kept at least somewhat in check by cross-border shopping allowance rules, duties, steep foreign transaction fees and the high exchange rate due to the disparity between the value of the Canadian and American dollar.
Canadian retailers essentially ignored American Black Friday, confident that they would recoup any “straying” consumers come Boxing Day, the biggest shopping day in Canada.
“Black Friday Canada” Is Born
The Canadian dollar began to trade at parity with American currency circa 2007, and more and more Canadians started crossing the border either in person or online to buy goods from American stores. Suddenly American Black Friday was seen as a real threat to Canadian retailers who justifiably began to fear a significant loss of shoppers and profits.
Hoping to entice spend-thrift Canadian consumers back home, retailers began to introduce “Black Friday Canada” as a way to compete with their American brethren. Canadians, however, were not quick to warm to the Black Friday of the north. For the first few years, Canadian Black Friday generally represented lukewarm deals from a relatively small number of Canadian retailers who were still holding off their best price cuts for Boxing Day.
Canadians wondering how to save on Black Friday deals continued to head south either in their cars or on their computers to get the best buys. As Canadian stores continued to lose out on consumers, Canadian retailers began offering more enticing deals.
Just How Popular Is Black Friday in Canada?
Google Trends reveals a rapidly increasing interest in the search term “Black Friday” in Canada: search volume has grown 25x over the past decade. Not only has Black Friday’s popularity in Canada enjoyed a rapid rise, it has now eclipsed Boxing Day as the biggest deal-hunting day of the year. A 2016 story in the Financial Post reports that “Canadian consumers spent 25.8% more on Black Friday than they did on Boxing Day last year.”
Interestingly, the once American-only day for deals is so beloved in Canada that it seems on its way to becoming an unofficial Canadian “holiday.” Studies show that during the last few years over a million Canadians have routinely called in sick on Black Friday to be able to hit the stores to be sure they get the best sales before items are sold out.
It’s no wonder so many people “need” to call in sick—Black Friday shoppers know that dedicated deal devotees are up half the night chasing bargains. The Financial Post article noted that “Google found a spike in 2015 shopping-related Black Friday searches between 12 a.m. and 2 a.m. eastern time, regardless of the time zone…” Smart shoppers know that many of the best Black Friday deals go live at exactly midnight, so in the game of shopping, it’s the night owl that gets the worm.
Is Black Friday Here to Stay?
Though Canadians have a lot of pride in maintaining our own home-grown traditions, we also have a habit of unabashedly embracing cultural staples from our neighbors.
In 2016, the online publication Retail Insider reported the findings of a study on Black Friday by Canadian think tanks companies DIG360 and Leger. The report noted that Black Friday had become “ubiquitous” across the country with almost a third of the population making a purchase on the legendary shopping day. The study also showed that, while approximately 20% of us shop on US websites and a tiny percent (2 to 3% on average) travel to the USA for sales, most of us shop Canadian—either in stores or online.
It looks like Black Friday has become a permanent resident in Canada.