Shoppers take advantage of Boxing Day deals at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Shoppers take advantage of Boxing Day deals at the Rideau Centre in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

Boxing Day’s shot to return to its ‘glory days’ stymied by lockdowns: Retail experts

Canadian retailers are expected to offer deep discounts this Boxing Day in a bid to entice shoppers to buy up leftover holiday and seasonal goods and raise enough cash to endure the latest round of pandemic restrictions.

Yet despite the rush of slashed prices and promotions already rolling out, industry watchers say the post-Christmas shopping spree will be subdued as Ontario’s new lockdown takes effect, pushing sales in the country’s most populated province almost entirely online.

“I think we’re going to see a ton of deals and some fire-sale prices,” says Farla Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory.

“There is going to be so much excess inventory that they’re just trying to get rid of” she says. “They also need cash. It’s all about the balance sheet.”

Still, Efros, who served as interim CEO of U.S. fashion brand True Religion in 2019, says the spending spree will likely be a “sad” and “lacklustre” shell of its usual self.

Boxing Day, historically the country’s biggest sales event, is a holiday shopping bonanza that usually sees massive crowds descend on malls and main streets the day after Christmas in search of deals.

It has been increasingly overshadowed by Black Friday, which falls the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, as shoppers check gifts off holiday lists early.

A holiday retail report by Deloitte Canada says the American shopping event has become “an entrenched part of the Canadian shopping landscape” in just a few years. A JLL Canada holiday survey also found that 16 per cent of Canadians planned to seek out Boxing Day deals, compared to 29 per cent on Black Friday.

Amazon added another rival to Boxing Day this year when it moved its Prime Day to mid-October, pushing the unofficial start to the holiday shopping season even earlier.

Despite the increasing competition for holiday dollars, retail experts say there is a glimmer of hope that Boxing Day could regain some of its former prominence this year.

“Canadians weren’t able to cross the border into the U.S. for Black Friday to get some of those deeper discounts, so it could have been a great year for Canadian retailers to get back a little bit of the glory days of Boxing Day,” says Tandy Thomas, an associate professor in the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

“But all those plans have been tossed out the window.”

While widespread retail closures will be in effect in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba on Boxing Day, other provinces have strict capacity rules curtailing how many shoppers can be in stores, dissuading some from venturing out altogether.

The restrictions are expected to lead to a largely online Boxing Day, similar to Black Friday.

“The big retail story this entire year is about online shopping and that will continue on Boxing Day,” Thomas says. “The key is going to be for retailers to figure out how to attract customers to their websites and encourage them to spend.”

She says Boxing Day is one of the few times of the year when “consumers are primed to shop” and some people have been waiting for the sales event to spend money.

“We have a bit of a bimodal situation where some people are desperately struggling with incomes severely impacted by the pandemic while others have been accumulating savings and are looking to spend money,” Thomas says.

Still, retail observers say even shoppers who want to spend cash will expect steep markdowns and promotions before clicking to buy, and stores will likely step up and offer what consumers want in a bid to clear out stock.

“People are buying a lot of gift cards this year and not the traditional wrapped gift so there’s an excess of inventory and some pent-up demand,” says Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group.

“We’ll likely see a high level of redemption of gift cards on Boxing Day.”

Fashion retailers, among the hardest hit during the pandemic, will likely offer big sales on apparel and footwear, she says, noting that many stores began rolling out Boxing Day promotions in the week leading up to Christmas.

“I think we’ll see a Boxing Day rush, but I think sales will also be stretched out a bit,” Hutcheson says. “We’ll likely see another surge in deals when things reopen because retailers don’t want to get stuck with aged goods like holiday and seasonal apparel.”

She adds: “For retailers, it’s the balance of needing cash and also liquidating inventory that hasn’t sold.”

Other items in categories like sporting goods and hobbies or home cooking could be harder to come by with fewer sales on offer, Hutcheson notes.

“If you go into a Canadian Tire some of the sporting goods shelves are empty,” she says. “We could see some of the shortages we saw during the first wave of lockdowns.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is now on the path to grant degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Problems with vagrancy in downtown Red Deer were behind a push to build a 24/7 shelter in the city. Nearly a year after a $7 million commitment from the province, there is little movement on this "top priority" project. (Advocate file photo).
Little progress on ‘top priority’ 24/7 homeless shelter project for Red Deer

No details can yet be provided by the city or province

Blackfalds RCMP are investigating two suspicious fires that happened in Lacombe County in November. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta man charged for exposing himself in public

The man was charged under similar circumstances in 2019

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Adam Hadwin, of Canada, chips to the second green during the first round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum
Adam Hadwin hopes to hit reset button in 2021 starting with American Express

Adam Hadwin hopes to hit reset button in 2021 starting with American Express

Japan's Yuto Totsuka competes during the men's World Cup freestyle halfpipe snowboard event in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Calgary runs out of runway to host world freestyle, snowboard championships

Calgary runs out of runway to host world freestyle, snowboard championships

Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio (21) celebrates his goal during extra time MLS playoff soccer action against the D.C. United, in Toronto on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. Osorio says a lot has changed with the Canadian national team since he first came to camp in 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Jonathan Osorio upbeat about what lies ahead for Canadian men’s soccer team

Jonathan Osorio upbeat about what lies ahead for Canadian men’s soccer team

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau, centre, celebrates his goal with teammates during second period NHL hockey action against the Vancouver Canucks in Calgary, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Just three games into a condensed season, the Calgary Flames are already on a break. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
After a strong start, Calgary Flames get early breather in short NHL season

After a strong start, Calgary Flames get early breather in short NHL season

Edmonton Oilers centre Leon Draisaitl (29) hits Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Zach Hyman (11) during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Oilers’ Draisaitl scores winner as showdown with Maple Leafs fails to live up to hype

Oilers’ Draisaitl scores winner as showdown with Maple Leafs fails to live up to hype

Conservative MP Derek Sloan arrives to a meeting in Ottawa on September 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
MP Derek Sloan ejected from Conservative caucus for “destructive behaviour”: O’Toole

MP Derek Sloan ejected from Conservative caucus for “destructive behaviour”: O’Toole

Former truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu walks into the Kerry Vickar Centre for his sentencing in Melfort, Sask., on Friday, March 22, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2008, file photo, Elliott Broidy poses for a photo at an event in New York. (AP Photo/David Karp, File)
Trump’s pardon largesse a boon for well-connected fraudsters

Trump’s pardon largesse a boon for well-connected fraudsters

Most Read