For Jessica Tree, finding the perfect gift this holiday season likely won’t involve setting foot in a store.

“I don’t think I'll personally be doing that this year,” the 26-year-old Toronto resident said in an interview. “Partially because of safety, but [also] because you can shop online.”

Fewer people shopping in stores is just one example of how Black Friday could look different in 2020, as retailers and consumers grapple with a second wave of COVID-19. 

With Canadians like Tree trying to reduce the virus’s spread and government-mandated store closures in cities like Toronto, the event that traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season will likely be more toned down this year.

“Usually on Black Friday there are huge lineups at midnight, door crashers, everyone running into a store to take advantage of Black Friday specials,” Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), said in an interview.

“Obviously with the pandemic and with social distancing, that is certainly not in the cards.”

Nevertheless, some industry observers predict Black Friday will still be one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

A recent poll conducted by Leger on behalf of Moneris found over 47 per cent of Canadians intend to do their holiday shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

And as customers shy away from brick-and-mortar stores, the Moneris survey found 70 per cent of Canadians plan to do their holiday shopping online, while a separate report from RCC and Leger forecast a 14-per-cent jump in online spending compared to the 2019 holiday season.

“With COVID and the way that consumers have responded to e-commerce and the desire to shop online … I think it's just going to enhance the conditions which make Black Friday the most successful day,” Angela Brown, president and chief executive officer of Moneris, said in an interview.

RCC’s Brisebois noted COVID-19 has considerably accelerated the shift towards e-commerce that was already taking place before the pandemic.

“What was expected over three years happened within three months,” she said.

In an effort to ensure purchases arrive on time as more consumers flock online, 21 per cent of Canadians said they will start their holiday shopping earlier than usual, according to RCC.

When it comes to retailers, Brown said their success this year will depend heavily on consumer behaviour, which has changed because of the pandemic.

“It's been feast or famine depending on the nature of the business you're in,” she said, noting spending has moved towards home comfort categories such as furnishings and appliances, as well as outdoor activities categories not affected by COVID-19.

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Brisebois added the holiday shopping season will be particularly harsh for businesses that rely heavily on foot traffic such as stores on major city streets, as well as smaller businesses that have been slower to move online.

A new wave of severe lockdown restrictions in parts of the country also means many businesses won’t be able to open their doors at all on Black Friday.

“Not being able to open during the busiest shopping time of the year is devastating both financially and emotionally for small businesses who desperately need the sales,” Laura Jones, executive vice-president at the Canadian Federation for Independent Business (CFIB), said in an emailed statement. “Undoubtedly lockdowns will push even more sales to the big box stores and online giants who are already doing really well.”

For Tree, supporting small local businesses has become paramount this year. She’s not the only one: 90 per cent of Canadians consider it important to buy from Canadian retailers this season, according to RCC’s findings.

“I think [this year] is about keeping independent Canadian shops alive during the pandemic,” Tree said. “And in general just being aware that we have a lot of different brands in Canada and different shop owners.”


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