Home News Insights Canada Black Friday 2018 Recap


Black Friday, which has long been known as one of the busiest shopping days of the year in the US, has only really existed in a Canadian context since 2009. Since then, the unofficial holiday has become a barometer for consumer confidence and an early indicator of holiday shopping demand. But since its Canadian inception nearly a decade ago, there has been a shift in how consumers and retailers approach Black Friday. This year our analysts spent the day visiting retailers to give you an up-close look at Black Friday performance in Canada.

The Beauty Industry
By Amy Chung, Industry Analyst

What comes to mind when you think of Black Friday?  Is it visions of crowds gone wild with shoppers stampeding into stores and arguments all around about who gets the last thingamajig that is a limited quantity door crasher?  If so, you’ve never shopped for prestige beauty products during this auspicious day.

Just like boxing day, black Friday has turned into a week-long event for shoppers.  There is no need to rush to the store on Friday morning as most of the specials offered on Black Friday either start on Thursday and/or extended until the Sunday and even Monday online.  Shoppers were able to skip stores altogether by shopping online where the same promos were offered.  And if they preferred a more personalized white-glove service, that wish was granted by calling their favorite beauty advisor who processed their purchase over the phone and keep it aside until they came to pick it up.

There were some pretty good deals to be found, and they mostly fell into one of three buckets: straight percentage discounts, extra loyalty points or promotional gift cards, and limited-edition sets or gift with purchases.  Instant gratification shoppers had the option of getting a straight discount or a gift with purchase, while delayed gratification shoppers earned extra loyalty points or high value gift cards to be used at later dates.  It was like a choose your own adventure story, with no bad endings.

The biggest take away for me this Black Friday? There’s no need to join the parking lot wars. Turn off that alarm and sleep in.  Then treat yourself to some me time with a face mask before starting your shopping, you deserve it.

The Fashion Industry
By Tamara Szames, Industry Analyst

In 2017 the 2 weeks of Black Friday/Cyber Monday posted a decline of -3 per cent, as fashion buying visits and sales remained flat during the months of November and December. Interestingly, this rang true for both in store and on-line sales. That said, November and December remain the most dominant time period for the fashion industry; representing almost 25 per cent of the annual dollar volume in Canada.

This year, we began to see promotions starting to filter in as early as the first week of November. With 3 weeks of promotions leading up to Black Friday I was naturally curious as to how the consumer would react. Friday morning, I headed out to one of Toronto’s busiest malls (Toronto’s CF Eaton Center) to get a first-hand glimpse at what this year’s Black Friday was all about.

With an early start I was anticipating large lines and lots of store traffic due to the lack of consumer confidence in online delivery as a result of the ongoing postal strike. As I approached the mall, I was shocked. Parking was a breeze and the mall was quiet and calm - not terms we would normally associate with Black Friday shopping.  After a few hours of walking the mall, speaking to store staff, online browsing, and exploring the shopping streets of Queen West it was clear that there were 3 big takeaways from Black Friday/Cyber Monday 2018.

  1. Extended periods of deep discounts did not entice the consumer, this possibly derailed them.
  2. It wasn’t all just about buying the latest and greatest. In fact, many retailers were promoting charitable initiatives with messaging such as “if you are going to buy, let it be for good” and “help make a change”.
  3. It’s no secret that experiences are all the rage but emotional experiences during the holidays seem to be an untapped opportunity for the fashion industry.

Sports Industry
Matthew Teeple, Industry Analyst

As I pulled up to the mall north of Toronto, parking was plentiful, and I was in the first spot closest to the entrance only 10 minutes before stores were set to open. It was clear that the experience was already not stacking up to be the Black Friday I expected. Looking at our shopping activity data I already knew that traffic for apparel/footwear/sporting goods was down by double-digits last year on Black Friday and down high single-digits for the weekend (Thursday-Sunday). But nevertheless, the lack of excitement still took me by surprise.

As I roamed the stores it was apparent that discounts on private label products were plentiful while branded discounts were modest. Also, a trend that shines through in our data as November shows the highest penetration of purchases made at a discount for private label apparel (nearly 60 per cent of all sales). Branded or private label, these discounts didn’t appear to be translating into sales.

Despite what looks to be adding up to another soft day for traffic there were a couple of athletic categories that should expect success over the weekend in Ontario. These categories include sports jerseys (Leafs, I was mostly seeing and hearing Marner), sweats/fleece, and lower priced outwear.

Home/Small Appliance Industry
By Dave Adamchick, Industry Analyst

Small appliances had a big role this Black Friday across many of the retailers I had the chance to visit, with the now ubiquitous Instant Pot occupying central real estate in several stores in large stacks. At the Walmart location I attended, the skid of $48 8-quart models was sold out by 6:30AM – the only fast sell out I observed – and a crowd of disappointed shoppers were told by a manager that the store would mark down another model as well. At Best Buy, there was the equivalent of several skids of Instant Pots front and centre by the door – and home products overall were placed in prominent locations.  These included stand mixers, cookware sets, and coffee makers, but also with their permanent placement of smart home devices right next to mobile phones. It seems retailers this season are betting on home being an engine of growth.

Overall crowd volumes seemed like a normal weekend at the suburban mall area I attended. In fact, during one store visit an associate told me he was “…surprised at how not busy it was”, and “…the better deals happen on Boxing Day”. It did seem like volume built up as the morning progressed. I ran into a mother/daughter pair, where the daughter took the day off work, travelled from Ottawa to spend the day shopping together. It seems like some Canadians treat the day as a shopping event, while others like a co-worker of mine, add their items to their cart before midnight and checkout when the clock rolls over, and go to bed. This dichotomy is something that we’ll really need to see the results of to gauge the overall success of the day, but my general inclination is that at stores, volume was lighter than in previous years.

Toy and Video Game Industry
By Joan Ramsay, Industry Analyst

Black Friday for many retailers was more of a Black Thursday to Monday event, with retailers starting their sales as early as Thursday with prices in effect right through until Cyber Monday.  To date, the Canadian Toy industry is up 2 per cent, with Canadian consumers fortunately having Toys R Us as a shopping venue that is not available anymore in the US.

Even without deep discounts, most retailers offered a discount of some sort, and stores seemed to be well prepared with lots of inventory and extra staff on hand. Area malls were busy all day, similar to a Saturday at this time of year. Other trends this year were the avalanche of emails from online retailers all day shouting out offers, and increasingly capitalized “LAST CHANCE” offers as the day wore on.

Shoppers were lined up for early openings outside Walmart, Toys R US and EB Games stores as well as the area malls to get their hands on the hottest offers. The PS4/Spiderman bundle for $259.99 was offered at most retailers, and quickly sold out. At Walmart, there were early line ups for the Spiderman bundle as well as hot offers in other categories including the Instant Pot. By 9:00 the stores were empty, and far quieter than a regular Friday.  Other products in high demand included the Nintendo Switch/Mario Kart bundle for $379.99 and the half price videogames, including NHL ’19. Best Buy is definitely a Black Friday destination, and was busy all day. All of the hot deals on gaming were sold out early, but a long checkout line showed shopping carts containing everything from TVs to Dyson products to wireless speakers and headphones.

At Toys R Us the hot item continues to be LOL Surprise, the #1 selling brand in the industry, with consumers lining up early to get their hands on the Eye Spy Pets Asst at 50 per cent off. Toys R Us had a lot of inventory on key titles and were constantly replenishing store shelves. They offered 50 per cent off deals on other hot brands such as selected Barbies, Hatchimals and Baby Alive, and had steady store traffic all day. Other strong sellers were top brands including Lego, Hot Wheels and Paw Patrol. Toys R Us also used Black Friday as an opportunity to offer 50 per cent off licensed products including Star Wars, allowing them to move through inventory in advance of the new movie offerings coming in 2019.

Technology Industry
By Mark Haar, Industry Analyst

Heading out at 8:00 a.m. on Black Friday morning to survey the suburban retail landscape, with a specific eye on the consumer technology sector, I thought I had made a tactical mistake departing my home as late as I had.  But as I drove past mega malls and acres of big box stores, it was clear from the quarter-filled parking lots that consumers value a good night’s sleep over a good bargain.  Nevertheless, as the morning wore on, roads became heavily congested and stores that I visited filled to the brim with eager shoppers ready to find an amazing deal on a television, mobile phone, computer or sound system.

Black Friday, a recent phenomenon in Canada, surged quickly to become the largest retail sales week of the year for the consumer technology in 2016.  From 2015-2017, sales volume for that week increased by +21 per cent.  In 2017, Black Friday sales accounted for 24 per cent of technology sales for the 6-week holiday period, an increase of +4 points over 2015.  And no surprise to most keen observers of the industry, the television category is the focal point of the week with by far the highest sales.  And it certainly appears that 2018 won’t be any different with aisles stacked with great deals on 55”, 65” and 75” television, and shoppers trying to magically contort those huge boxes into their compact cars.

But it is not just televisions that will drive the day in 2018.  Shopper interest appeared high through all areas of the stores that I visited.  The home audio section was buzzing with activity and there seemed to be a great deal of interest in speakers with voice activation capability.  There was also the usual curiosity on the wide selection of computers and printers, and lengthy lines indeed within the mobile section.  And another sign of the times was the even lengthier line at the online pickup desk.  Black Friday 2018 certainly seems to be shaping up to continue as the reigning week of the year, but of course my personal observations and the anecdotes of others is not defined as data, so we’ll have to wait another week to find out the true outcome.

Foodservice Industry
By Vince Sgabellone, Industry Analyst

My inbox started to fill up early in the week with food-themed Black Friday messages. With that in mind I fully expected to see plenty of feature activity in the restaurants that I toured both online and in person on Friday. Instead I was surprised to see only one chain (Hero Burgers) participating in the spirit of Black Friday with a deep discount offer. The offers in my inbox were simply attempts to increase my use of mobile apps and digital ordering and were typical of the digital coupons I was accustomed to receiving. There was nothing unique or Black Friday-themed about these offers.

The digital deals I received were not limited to restaurant brands. The meal kit companies used Black Friday as another excuse to offer a deep discount, something they are already known for. Loblaws got in on the digital promotion game with a bonus points offer on Click and Collect orders. Uber Eats was advertising small discounts among participating ‘favourite’ restaurants, but no deal of their own.

Considering that almost one quarter of all restaurant visits already include a deal, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that there was not much appetite for more discounting. However, with only three per cent of all restaurant orders taking place online, the limited reach of these digital offers seems like a miss to me. It was curious also that despite the digital focus, there was no connection to Cyber Monday? A quick scan of US media confirmed that the restaurant industry in that market is similarly disengaged with Black Friday. The Cheesecake Factory was one brand offering a deal, free slices with the purchase of a gift card. So I ended my Black Friday store check at the one Canadian location but alas, they were not offering the deal. I purchased a cheesecake slice regardless. I didn’t buy a gift card.

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