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Canadians reject Black Friday cross-border shopping as loonie slumps

Annika Reid misses the years she cross-border shopped til she dropped on Black Friday.

“It was a ritual,” says the Toronto plus-size fashion blogger. She explains she and friends would sometimes hit the road at midnight to get early dibs on big sales in Buffalo, N.Y.

“Stores are open all night. So we would be there, all night shopping and finish the day probably around noon and then go to the hotel and [pass] out.”

But that was the past. This is the second year in a row Reid is sticking to home for the event.

“The main thing that keeps me here now is the drop of the loonie.”

As the Canadian dollar dives, so does interest in hitting U.S. malls for Black Friday.

It’s traditionally an American shopping bonanza full of deep discounts that begins Friday and often runs for days after. But with the loonie stagnant at around at 74 cents US, many Canadians now find U.S. bargains are no longer enticing.

“When things were close at par, it would be much more of a deal,” says Reid about those hazy cross-border shopping days. “I would come [home] with a car full of things.”

Annika Reid Black Friday fashion blogger

Fashion blogger Annika Reid in Toronto says she no longer crosses the border to indulge in Black Friday sales. (Stefanie Augusteijn)

According to Statistics Canada, road trips to the U.S. for November 2015 declined by a whopping 28 per cent compared to the same month in 2013. Same day trips saw a slightly worse decline to 30 per cent.

The numbers coincide with a sharp drop in the loonie. In November 2013, it hovered around 95 cents US. By November 2015, it had plummeted to about 75 cents US.

‘It’s not really worth it’

When you factor in a weak dollar and tack on travel and duty costs, “it’s not really worth it,” says Jeff Novak with bargain-hunting website, RedFlagDeals.

“If you’re going to put in the effort, put in the effort to find the deals in Canada and most of the time you’ll end up ahead.”

That’s how many Canadians appear to feel. Black Friday spending in Canada has steadily increased over the past five years, according to debit and credit card payment processor Moneris.

The company predicts that domestic Black Friday shopping will rise by a further eight per cent this year, and that Cyber Monday spending using Canadian retailers will jump by 15 per cent.

“A lot of time the deals seem worth it when you just compare pricing,” says Novak about online shopping on U.S. sites.

But when you add up all the extra fees — from shipping to customs to brokerage charges — you often don’t come out ahead, he adds.

“I think you find a lot of people abandoning their [online shopping] carts and saying, ‘Okay, this isn’t actually as a good a deal as I thought.'”

Black Friday crosses the border

Novak says Canadian stores started offering Black Friday deals to try to stop the flood of shoppers crossing the border.

“Retailers were losing a lot of business. So they started saying, ‘Well, you know, if they’re going to do Black Friday there, we’re going to do Black Friday here.'”

Many domestic stores now fully embrace the event, expanding their shopping hours and slashing prices. Outlet Collection in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. has gotten so into the groove, it’s even trying to woo Americans to its Black Friday bash.

This is the second year in a row the border mall has run social media ads targeting shoppers in New York State.

Money Monitor

Black Friday is an American tradition that often involves big discounts and big crowds of shoppers. (Jon Garcia/Associated Press)

The message it’s sending out: “Save more in Canada.” That’s because Americans get to reap the benefits of both big discounts and a low loonie.

“It’s really a good opportunity for us to take advantage of getting that customer across the border,” says Carly Rupcic, marketing manager with Outlet Collection.

Rupcic also expects a healthy influx of Canadian shoppers for the event. “The more people coming here, the more people staying in Canada, the better.”

However, some U.S. border malls claim it’s still worth it for Canadians to trek south.

Across the border in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Fashion Outlets mall opened Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET, kicking off a Black Friday event that includes a DJ spinning dance music.

The shopping centre offers “the best deals for the holidays, hands down,” says Tina McCuddin, who oversees the mall’s marketing. She adds that Fashion Outlets offers brands that can’t be found in Canada. “The merchandise selection we have is unlike anything you’re going to see anywhere else.”

So is it still worth it?

A trip to the U.S. can still be worth it if you do your homework, says Stephen Fine with Canadian resource site CrossBorderShopping.

“It’s not guaranteed like it used to be that it’s going to be cheaper.” So Fine believes your best bet is to tally up the total before you hit the road to save yourself from disappointment.

“You don’t want to go and just hope for the best.”

For Toronto shopper, Reid, she’s decided her best bet is to stay home “and just get good deals right here in my city.”