Photo: The Canadian Press
Children look in a store in the village of Blue Mountain Ski Resort in the Blue Mountains, Ont.
Buyers experienced a Boxing Day like no other on Saturday, with non-essential retail sales closed or restricted across much of the country to try to stem the spread of COVID-19.
While some wore masks and snow boots to brave the open-air queues, many looked at their inboxes instead, as some industry watchers say much of the shopping after Christmas this year will be replaced by Internet searches and online orders.
A queue of a dozen deal hunters outside Best Buy in downtown Toronto wouldn’t be unusual in a normal year, but buyer Hao Chen said he was surprised at see him in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But once he lined up, Chen noted the retailer was running a tight ship, with employees separating buyers and making sure everyone online had already placed an order online. Inside the Eaton Center Mall, Best Buy and other stores were empty except for employees, as security guards kept the few visitors focused on curbside pickup and take out.
There was no window shopping to see, Chen said, because “there is nothing in the windows for shopping.”
The lockdown for the province of Ontario began on Saturday, joining Quebec and Manitoba in shutting down non-essential retail outlets, while much of the rest of the country reduced in-store capacity.
In a normal year, Chen said he would be in Chicago with his family for Christmas. But as a recent graduate, he said he decided to spend the vacation trying to save money on the vacuum instead. Chen said he ordered online and only went to the mall “boots to the ground” for a pickup because his apartment was not a great place to accept deliveries.
“I’ll take my vacuum cleaner and be back in my apartment, hopefully in 30 minutes.”
Despite restrictions on most online shopping, there will be inflammatory selling prices on some items, said Farla Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory. She said retailers don’t want to be left with a backlog of vacation and seasonal inventory and must also consolidate their balance sheets in the face of growing lockdowns and restrictions.
“People are buying a lot of gift cards this year and not the traditional wrapped gift, so there is excess inventory and pent-up demand,” says Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner of consulting firm JC Williams Group.
Some politicians have urged shoppers to search locally for Boxing Day deals amid the restrictions. Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley urged shoppers to visit local establishments – “socially remote, of course.” Maurizio Bevilacqua, mayor of Vaughan, Ont., Said residents should show their support by shopping online and ordering food.
But shoppers were scarce in shops in Toronto’s Danforth neighborhood. Andrew Koppel of Kops Records said shoppers are supporting local businesses, lining up at nearby stores on Christmas Eve and Black Friday. But he said he deliberately did not offer discounts on Saturday to avoid queues and promote health measures.
“Boxing Day is virtually nonexistent for us,” Koppel said. “Once everything is reopened, we could do something to catch up with him. Maybe it will be Boxing Day in March. We will find something to reward our patient customers. ”