The changing face of Boxing Day

How competition from Black Friday and better-informed consumers have affected the biggest shopping day of the year.

Canadian consumers may be less swayed by the allure of big sales on Boxing Day this year.

Various economic factors like a low Canadian dollar suggest shoppers here are being more budget conscious. Past analysis from retail consultant Ed Strapagiel has showed sales growth in Canada continue to soften the closer we’ve gotten to the holiday shopping season. There’s also increased competition for the budgets of Canadians. They have typically been more interested in shopping for sales on Boxing Day than Black Friday, but Accenture’s recent Holiday Shopping Survey suggests that Black Friday is now just as popular a shopping occasion as Boxing Day.

While Accenture’s study suggested consumers were willing to hit up stores on both days, Eric Dolansky, associate professor of marketing at Brock University’s Goodman School of Business, says the competition from a more established Black Friday will inevitably have an impact on what retailers can expect on Dec. 26.

“People only have so much money,” he says. “Now there’s a big retail sale day just one month before Boxing Day. All in all, it is likely to cause people to buy more stuff overall, but it’s going to be less on each individual one than they would had there only been one.”

Outside of the rise of Black Friday, the other trend that has picked up steam over the years is a more informed consumer. Today, shoppers are much better at doing research about their purchases – both ahead of time and in-store – and that has changed the way they perceive the same kinds of sale-focused messages.

“We have higher expectations,” Dolansky says. “I can hop on my phone or computer and see what other retailers are charging elsewhere or what the price was in a flyer two weeks ago. I wouldn’t say this would make consumers not buy something, but it does change how ready they are to accept how big of a deal something is on a day when they are extremely deal-focused.”

Dolansky says if a retailer is unable to offer the kinds of deals today’s consumer will be enticed by, there is an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that shopping centres everywhere will see increased foot-traffic.

“If I’m not trading on the notion of a low prices, it might be a chance to cement that in the customers mind,” he says. “If I go to the Apple Store while I’m at the Eaton Centre, most of the things are the same price as usual and I’m likely not going to buy it that day. But it will reinforce to me the value of the brand because it makes it that much more clear they don’t need to discount or play this game.”

However, not playing the bargain game on Boxing Day needs to be consistent with a brand’s positioning throughout the year. Picking Dec. 26 as the day to launch a special kind of experience or promotion that isn’t related to lower prices as an effort to stand out would show a fundamental misunderstanding of their consumer’s mindset.

“Most of the people who are willing to get up on a holiday and go out to brave the crowds are probably looking for a deal,” Dolansky says. “I’m always for adding value instead of cutting price, but doing something special that isn’t based around discounts, I would assume that message would get lost on a day when the prevailing purchase behaviour deal-seeking and lining up. Even the people who go out later in the day to beat the crowds are still going to see what deals are left.”

Image courtesy Shutterstock