Home News Insights Canada Black Friday Retail Insight

Black Friday Observations: Canadian Perspectives from 5 Industry Analysts


Black Friday may not look like it did ten years ago, but it is still one of the top shopping day of the year. This year, NPD’s industry experts spent the day “shopping”. They visited several malls and key retailers across a number of categories in an effort to better understand how consumers are embracing Black Friday.

Toy and Video Game Industry

By Joan Ramsay, Industry Analyst

I looked forward to my store visits on Black Friday with near childlike anticipation. I had scoured the flyers to be on top of what the big offers were, both for the toy and video game industries and for other consumer categories. I’d plotted my route, and strategized on timing. Walmart was opening at 6:00 am, so I figured I’d get there at 7:00 am – early enough to experience the rush, but late enough to see what door crashers had sold out.

I executed the plan, and quickly realized I hadn’t needed to be there that early. The Walmart parking lot was quite empty, and there was more staff than customers in store. All of the pallets with the door crashers were almost full at that hour. I then headed across the parking lot to Best Buy which was also not busy, but they were moving a lot of TVs. It seems that if you’re in the market for a TV, it likely doesn’t make sense to buy it outside of Black Friday offers.

Next stop was a prominent west Toronto mall, which opened earlier than usual at 8:00 am. I don’t think this was well known, although I was almost bowled over by a group of pre-teen girls running toward Aritzia. The mall got progressively busier as the morning went on. Stores that didn’t have Black Friday sale signage in the windows were empty, but stores that had good promotions, such as Roots and Indigo, had really strong store traffic.

Next stop was Toys R Us. By this point it was late morning, and I was happy to see that the store was really busy. They had some really strong offers, and I saw a lot of full shopping carts. All of the major manufacturers had offers on their big brands including Hasbro’s Nerf products and Hasbro Games, Mattel’s Barbie and Hot Wheels lines, select LEGO building sets, and MGAE’s L.O.L. Surprise!

My visits to other Walmart and Best Buy locations later in the day yielded bigger crowds and sell outs of some of the big offers, including the 1TB PS4 with three games and controller for $249.99. Overall? Black Friday didn’t seem to have the sense of urgency that it has had in prior years, but perhaps more people are electing to stay at home and shop online. Aside from the crazy door crasher deals, most of the offers were in effect through until December 1 or 2 so waiting and shopping over the weekend was a very viable option.

Foodservice Industry

By Vince Sgabellone, Industry Analyst

The Black Friday promotions seemed to start early this year, even before the candles went out on our Jack-O-Lanterns. The question that came to mind for me as the Foodservice Industry Analyst was whether or not restaurants were going to take part this year. The short answer to that question turned out to be, not really.

This makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. I think it is safe to say that deal-seeking shoppers are not likely to make any purchase decisions based on the opportunity to save a few bucks on their lunch or dinner. Next, the foodservice industry is already faced with a continuing escalation in dealing. More than one quarter of all visits to restaurants includes a deal of some form, up two points since last year alone. With this in mind, I can understand the industry’s reluctance to introduce even more dealing. Especially on a Friday which is already one of the busiest days of the week. In the end, the industry has decided that the small opportunity to capture some additional visitors during this busy shopping season isn’t worth the risk of starting a price, or ‘deal’ war.

Nonetheless, some operators got on board. Maybe it should come as no surprise that the biggest promotion came from a retailer, IKEA, who tried to lure Black Friday bargain hunters with a $1 breakfast offer. This makes perfect sense. As one of the last remaining hard goods retailers that still operates in-store restaurants, this loss leader not only attracts shoppers, but also highlights a unique point of differentiation for them.

Among the operators, McDonald’s offered an in-app discount, David’s Tea had buy/get deals available in-store and online, and Moxie’s was giving discounts on gift cards.

The meal kit companies and third-party restaurant delivery companies tried to get into the spirit of the season with a series of deals. But these segments of the food industry are known for their dealing activity, and so this felt to me more like the deals they offered during Black Friday week, rather than specific Black Friday deals.

My favourite foodservice Black Friday activity though was from Wendy’s. Rather than promoting a deal, they took an irreverent position and told us to forget about deal shopping; taunting us to visit one of their restaurants instead to try out their latest Bacon Cheeseburger offering. It was enough to capture the attention, and a visit, from the Friday lunch mob at our office. Let’s see if this sort of non-deal Black Friday promotion sets the tone for next year.

Beauty Industry

By Alecsandra Hancas, Industry Analyst

When it comes to the beauty industry, it is as much about convenience, as it is price.  

The perception of Black Friday is very real. When chatting with a few close friends about my plan to hit one of the most luxurious malls in Canada on Black Friday, I was immediately hit with – the parking lot will be a mess and it is the busiest shopping day of the year. Then came the best advice: Take an Uber.

I was intrigued to see if this really was the case north of the border when it came to Beauty purchases, especially since Canadians have more shopping occasions compared to the US. There is singles day, Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day (the original Black Friday). Spoiler alert, Boxing Day week is still the biggest shopping week of the year for Prestige Beauty purchases in Canada, but there is no doubt Black Friday and even Singles Day have consumers thinking and shopping for the holidays.

For Beauty, it was very evident earlier in the week that the promotional activity was online first. In fact, Sephora kicked-off Black Friday week online and through their app earlier in the week. Their app allows you to try on lipstick and false lashes. Direct to consumer sales have become increasingly important, and this year we saw select brands amp up their offers by offering competitive discounts and complimentary gifts with purchase (and free samples!), thus showing that Black Friday week is as much about the convenience of shopping online, as it is about price. Given that 55% of sales occur outside of Canada’s biggest cities, I would not be surprised if the majority of this year’s growth is driven by online sales.

For shoppers who braved the mall, it was very exciting. This meant scoring the new James Charles palette or a Pat McGrath lipstick set at a fraction of the cost without waiting for your package to arrive. It also meant having extra incentives to explore some of the 300+ brands that have entered the market since 2016, some of which have opened storefronts in some of Canada’s biggest and most luxurious malls. Interestingly, regardless of the crowds, line-ups and excitement, consumers were still interested in consultative services. Brow bars, skin and makeup consultations were in full swing. One customer sat for a full skincare consultation amidst a busy store, perhaps coming for a little TLC after shopping at a tech store or Pandora, which had the longest lineup in every mall I visited.

For many shoppers that I asked, their purchases on Black Friday came down to their all-time favourite brands or brands that they were most intrigued to try. For me, a Toronto-based DTC hair brand cut their prices by 50% and personally saved me a trip across town to Queen West. I was sold. That said, while I observed the crowds, I did 100% of my shopping online and happily waited at home for my packages to arrive.

Apparel Industry

By Matthew Teeple, Industry Analyst

Just north of the GTA, it felt like just another shopping day as I took to the streets on Black Friday morning. Even with sale banners being hung from what seemed like every square inch of space, the message seemed to be missing the mark. There was a strong use of copy and paste from last year in the marketing tactics utilized by Fashion retailers and consumers appeared to take notice. At malls and supercenters alike foot traffic seemed to be down from last year.

While my observations are most certainly geographic nature (again, my shopping took place North of the city core), there were a few key retailers who seemed to be attracting bigger crowds than normal. Old Navy and Roots appeared to be the undisputed winners in early morning traffic with consumers jammed to the door, eagerly waiting to grab their one-day deals. However, even this felt softer than last year.

We know that more consumers are shifting their purchases online, but even strong growth from online in November last year couldn’t offset an otherwise soft month for the fashion industry – will this year be different?

Technology Industry

By Chris Brugman, Industry Analyst

I began the day in downtown Toronto at the Eaton Centre. Dundas square was surrounded by large digital displays calling out Black Friday sales. Some retailers advertising deals so hot they are only available in-store. Others, such as Amazon, touted their large selection of aggressive online deals. Even Facebook got in on the action, advertising their Portal line of products.

In the mall, early morning traffic seemed good with a steady flow of shoppers moving through the mall. Inventory levels were evident at key electronics retailers, stacked high throughout the store. Smaller items, like voice assistant enabled speakers, were placed on every available space throughout the store. A key determining factor to the success of Black Friday is the performance of the TV and PC categories. I was pleasantly surprised to see good amounts of shoppers in both sections early in the day.

TVs saw some heavy promotions this year with aggressive pricing across the board. Everything from 4K to OLED, gigantic screens and tiny 32s were on sale. I think the largest challenge rests on the consumer to wade through the sea of deals to figure out where, exactly, lies the best bang for their buck. To that end, in-store staff was ample and constantly in conversation with customers.

Later in the day, I headed out of the city to visit some stores in a more suburban setting. By midafternoon, crowd strength had increased compared to the morning. Customers were shopping just about every section of the store. The TV section was very busy, and some inventory had definitely been picked over. The PC section was also quite lively with many customers shopping the gaming section of the store. The quietest part of the store seemed to be smart home. Unlike years past where some of the must-have items included smart switches, thermostats and bulbs, these areas of the store were some of the quietest.

Hopefully, having some good traffic in the key categories that more-or-less drive the entire market can give us a Black Friday that starts this holiday season off on the right foot.

Want more?

Complete this form to hear from NPD.


Newsletter

Subscribe and get key market trends and insights relevant to your industry each month.

We will not sell your information. View Privacy Notices.

Follow Us

© The NPD Group, Inc.