TORONTO — When Shopify Inc.'s Harley Finkelstein surveys November's retail landscape, he finds it hard to see where Black Friday stops and Cyber Monday begins.
The annual pre-holiday sales blitzes meant to encourage customers to drop cash on discounted goods have bled together in recent years, with stores extending Black Friday promotions beyond a single day and online retailers offering Cyber Monday deals all week — or all month.
"Black Friday/Cyber Monday used to be a weekend, now it's more of a season," said the president of the Ottawa e-commerce giant.
Many in the retail industry feel the divisions will be even more hazy this Cyber Monday as the COVID-19 health crisis continues to reshape shopping habits.
During the pandemic, which saw stores temporarily close and people retreat inside their homes, there was a surge in online shopping.
As measures meant to quell the virus eased, many kept shopping online — but not at the rate some brands anticipated.
"Online shopping grew in popularity, obviously, through the pandemic, but it's actually fallen off now because people are returning back to the store," said Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at J.C. Williams Group, a consulting firm.
"E-commerce spending is actually down year-to-date 11.5 per cent."
The consumer shift back to brick-and-mortar stores blindsided Shopify, which had banked on online shopping continuing to accelerate at pandemic rates.
"It's now clear that bet didn't pay off," chief executive Tobi Lutke said in a July statement announcing the company was laying off 10 per cent of staff as a result of the misjudgment.
The company's stock traded for as high as $212 in the past year but has averaged closer to $50 in recent days.
So there's a lot riding on the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.
"Black Friday/Cyber Monday is sort of our Super Bowl," said Finkelstein. "The culture and the energy at the company is really high right now."
A survey his company conducted with 24,000 consumers and 9,000 small and medium businesses around the world found 59 per cent of Canadians planned to spend the same amount as or more than last year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend. That figure rose to 74 per cent for those between the age of 25 and 34.
Finkelstein finds it hard to predict how the weekend will go, though he suspects it will be very different from last year, when the country was consumed with product shortages and the Omicron wave of COVID-19.
"This Black Friday/Cyber Monday seems far less frantic than last year," he said. "There are less supply chain issues, more physical stores are open, there's more inventory. There's better capacity planning at the shipping companies."
However, there is a new problem: inflation remains stubbornly high.
Michelle Wasylyshen of the Retail Council of Canada says "consumers tightened their belts a little" in recent months but still plan to spend the same as they did last holiday season, roughly $790.
"The difference this year is that they will be looking for more meaningful or practical gifts," she wrote in an email. "They might also decrease the number of people they buy for or will give fewer gifts per person, but they do plan to shop."
Finkelstein also foresees a more measured approach.
"They may not buy five things they have mediocre love for. They may buy two things they deeply want," said Finkelstein.
"And they may also be thoughtful about how they buy ... Is there a discount coming? I'll wait until Thursday night or until Cyber Monday."
The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by the National Retail Federation, which noticed the Monday after Black Friday had delivered a big spike for online sales and traffic in the prior two years.
"We won't be seeing quite the same spike that we have in the past," Hutcheson predicted.
Some of that forecast comes from the stretched shopping window but also because some people are going to stick with their pandemic habits of online shopping.
Moneris is predicting Cyber Monday will be the busiest online shopping day, following a trend set in 2019 and 2020. However, Black Friday is still expected to be the busiest day in terms of total transaction count and dollars spent across all mediums.
Hutcheson said the week will play out as an "omnichannel view."
Omnichannel is an industry term referring to making shopping seamless across online and mobile platforms as well as brick-and-mortar stores.
Finkelstein likes the term because the retail industry "is no longer online versus offline."
"Saying omnichannel is a strategy will soon be akin to saying colour TV," he said. "It is the norm and so consumers are shopping everywhere and everywhere."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.
Companies in this story: (TSX:SHOP)
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press