Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The new BLACK (Friday)

American shopping event taking off here

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Black Friday may be a long-standing U.S. tradition, but bargain-hungry Canadians and eager-to-please Canadian retailers have also turned the last Friday in November into one of this country's biggest shopping days of the year.

"I think Boxing Day is still No. 1 here," Deborah Green, manager of Winnipeg's largest regional mall -- Polo Park -- said. "But I would say (Black Friday) was our second busiest day last year."

That may not be the case for too much longer, according to Barry and Rob Olinyk, senior managers of one of the city's most successful independent retailers -- Advance Electronics.

"We started (having a Black Friday sale) about three years ago and year after year it gets bigger and bigger," Rob, the store's manager, said Friday.

"There a lot of people who think that down the road, Black Friday will be bigger than Boxing Day."

Barry, who is the store's general manager, said they've been working with their suppliers since September to ensure they have the right products at the right price for this year's two-day event. Although it will be a store-wide sale, they expect flat-panel TVs and tablet computers to be the biggest sellers.

"And customers are already talking about Black Friday, so consumer awareness is high," added Barry. "So we feel this could very well be the biggest (Black Friday) yet."

'It was almost like a Saturday for us'

-- Kildonan Place manager Peter Havens (below), on Black Friday 2012, even though only half of the mall's stores took part

How busy are we talking here?

"It's a zoo," is how Rob Olinyk described the scene inside and outside the store last year.

So they're bringing in extra sales staff this year, and will even have employees directing traffic in the parking lot and helping customers carry their big-screen TVs out to their vehicles.

It was also pandemonium last year at the Polo Park mall.

"We opened at 8 a.m. and by 8:30 (a.m.) you couldn't move in the mall. It was packed," Green said. "And I think it's going to be even busier this year."

Spokesmen for the Kildonan Place, St. Vital and Grant Park shopping malls said they also expect Friday to be even busier than Black Friday 2012.

Kildonan Place manager Peter Havens said only about half of the mall's stores participated in last year's event, "and it was busy right up until about 2 p.m. It was almost like a Saturday for us."

But this year, all 105 of the mall's stores are participating, he said, which should help draw even bigger crowds to the mall.

"We're expecting a very busy day."

It seems retailers of all stripes -- shopping centres, national and international retail chains and even small, locally owned independents -- are jumping on the Black Friday bandwagon.

Although Black Friday sales have been a big deal for decades in the United States, it's only in the last four or five years Canadian retailers started to offer them in a bid to stem the tide of cross-border shopping.

And what began here as a trickle of participating stores has since turned into a flood, with retailers across the country now trumpeting Black Friday events weeks in advance of the big day. Or in the case of some retailers, the big weekend.

"You kind of have to do it (hold Black Friday events) because people are expecting it now and you want to keep those dollars here," said Cheryl Mazur, general manager of St. Vital Centre, the city's second-largest regional shopping mall.

She said the only reason St. Vital Centre doesn't make Black Friday a mandatory event for all of its tenants is because the mall holds its Behind Closed Doors sale about a week before Black Friday in which similar bargains are offered to ticket-buying shoppers, with all of the proceeds from ticket sales going to local charities.

"So that's kind of our special event."

But is all that Black Friday advertising hype by other retailers working? The Olinyks and Lanny McInnes, local spokesman for the Retail Council of Canada, seem to think so.

"It's got to be having an impact because more retailers are doing it (offering Black Friday deals) and those who have been doing it for the last couple of years continue to do it," McInnes said.

McInnes said even Mother Nature is lending local retailers a hand this year.

"The fact there is snow on the ground now is going to help drive consumers to think about starting to do their Christmas shopping," he predicted.

The results of a Pollara survey released Friday by the Bank of Montreal says nearly half (47 per cent) of Canadian consumers say they plan to shop on Black Friday this year.

That's up from 41 per cent in 2012. And they're expected to spend an average of $292 each.

In the Prairie region (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) participation isn't expected to be as high -- 36 per cent of all consumers surveyed -- but the ones who shop are expected to spend

"Canadian retailers are rising to the challenge of the lure of cross-border shopping, as they look to deal with the Canadian dollar still not far from parity, a significant, although narrowing, gap between Canadian and U.S. retail prices and the more generous duty-free limits," said Doug Porter, chief economist for BMO Capital Markets.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 B6

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