Retail council urges businesses to push online options as Black Friday nears

As flyers proclaiming Black Friday savings land in Manitobans’ mailboxes, the Retail Council of Canada is advising retailers to promote online shopping and other contactless options for pandemic-friendly shopping.

“Over the past few years, Black Friday has surpassed Boxing Day as the No. 1 retail holiday in the year. It’s a significant point in time,” said John Graham, director of government relations for the prairie region with the Retail Council of Canada.

The council met with retailers over the summer to plan for Black Friday and holiday shopping amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Graham said. Discussions ranged from expanding hours and extending sales to limit crowds, to embracing online options and curbside pickup to avoid them altogether.

“It’s been a very difficult time, and we’re hopeful that people will find ways to support those stores without having to visit them,” he said.

The annual Black Friday advertising push comes as Manitoba faces a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The province now holds the highest per-capita infection rate in the country and pressure on its health-care system is mounting.

The province has already ordered many retailers to shut their doors to in-person shopping. But those offering goods deemed essential — including groceries, office supplies, pharmaceuticals and computers — are allowed to stay open at limited capacity.

On Tuesday, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, slammed stores advertising big sales and warned of tighter restrictions to come.

“We’ve seen a number of advertisements from stores here in Manitoba about big in-person sales on Black Friday, talking about lining up to get in,” Roussin said.

“This is irresponsible. We can’t accept this. We’re in code red … we have people dying every day.”

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin asks Manitobans to stay home on Black Friday

Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says now is not the time to host or take part in large sales like Black Friday. 1:13

But Graham said Tuesday many of the flyers Manitobans are receiving now were likely planned for a national audience and printed weeks or months ago.

“A lot of the flyers that are coming out this week were planned weeks in advance, and so stores may not have injected their marketing strategies for Manitoba quick enough,” he said.

In many cases, those sales will be available online, too, he said, or through options like contactless pickup.

“We would encourage Manitobans to continue to support retail — support small retailers in particular,” he said. “Be patient, but look at other ways beyond going to that store to make your purchase, whether it’s online and home delivery or curbside pickup.”

‘A lot of tension’

As the holiday season approaches, Graham said the impact on retailers of continued restrictions could be severe.

“For many retailers, the holiday season could represent as much as 50 per cent of all their entire sales for the year,” he said. “To be shut down or restricted in how they operate is financially devastating, in particular for apparel retail.”

He urged stores and shoppers alike to be kind to one another.

“There’s a lot of tension, and over the past number of days and weeks, we’ve seen a lot of people ganging up on either shoppers and what they’re buying, or retailers and how they’re operating,” he said.

“I would just encourage patience and understanding … that the vast majority of Manitobans and retailers are doing their very best to create safe environments and adhere to the guidance of Dr. Roussin and the experts that will hopefully lead us to a safer future.”

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