B.C. holiday shoppers prefer online to physical stores

Study shows province led country in proportion of Black Friday shopping done online

holiday shopping -- chung
Shoppers walk between stores at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet mall in Richmond | Chung Chow

British Columbians spent significantly less on Black Friday bargains at physical stores than counterparts in the rest of Canada, according to a Leger and DIG360 survey released December 16.

The average B.C. shopper spent $78 on Black Friday promotions in stores in late November.

Amounts that shoppers spent in other provinces in bricks-and-mortar stores during the promotions, according to the survey, were:
• $105 in Quebec;
• $147 in Atlantic Canada;
• $150 in Ontario;
• $159 in Alberta; and
• $202 in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

B.C. Black Friday shoppers spent $347 overall on Black Friday promotions, including $269 online, which was in line with spending patterns in the rest of Canada.

Overall, British Columbians spent 77.5% of their dollars online when making Black Friday purchases, which was significantly more than in other provinces.

DIG360 principal David Gray told BIV that much of B.C. was dealing with flooding and heavy rain in late November and this might have encouraged people to make purchases online instead of going to stores.

The reverse had been anticipated.

Supply-chain disruptions had been making headlines through the summer and early fall, with many experts and reports forecasting that people would return to shopping malls so they could be sure to get the products that they wanted.

"This holiday season, Canadians will return to shopping centres and physical retail on a grand scale," JLL said in its Canada Retail Holiday Survey 2021.

Shopping online was seen by some as being fraught with the potential risk that product shortages, and port congestion could mean items would not arrive when promised.

Retailers urged shoppers to buy what they wanted if they saw it in stock because it might be gone if they were to shop around for a better price.

Canada Post gave the entire province a yellow service alert, which meant that carriers would attempt deliveries, but delays were to be expected.

The national mail service also suspended delivery to parts of B.C., such as Abbotsford, where much of the flooding was centred. Courier companies also had warnings. Purolator temporarily suspended its on-time delivery guarantees for all express courier shipments to and from B.C., while Fedex serviced parts of the B.C. Interior from Alberta, causing some delays.

When online and physical-store spending is combined, the result was relatively mediocre Black Friday in Canada, according to the study.

"For Black Friday deals, the spend was basically identical to 2019, so it was flat compared with before the pandemic," Gray said.

"The thing that was interesting was that online spending was higher. The ratio of online-to-store spend was skewed more toward online."

He said that online shopping for gifts will likely wane somewhat, while in-store shopping increases, as Christmas nears. This is because there will be less time for retailers to deliver online purchases, and consumers will fear not getting products on time.

Other trends identified in the survey included that, at least occasionally:
• 74% of shoppers found higher prices at stores;
•66% of shoppers found desired sizes and colours of items were out of stock;
•60% of shoppers found shipping was taking longer than normal, or than expected; and
•55% found specific items were not available to purchase.