Kinder, gentler Black Friday comes to Canada

TORONTO (Reuters) - Retailers brought U.S.-style Black Friday sales to Canada in bigger volumes than ever before this year, wooing domestic shoppers seeking the deals they see on U.S. television and cross-border shopping trips.

There were occasional line-ups and widespread enthusiasm, but little of the madness that accompanies the traditional start of the U.S. holiday shopping season. Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October, and most people work this week.

“Obviously, no one has been pepper sprayed or shot yet. It’s our version of Black Friday,” said Kaitie Rosen, referring to a shopper at a Los Angeles-area Walmart who allegedly used pepper spray on a throng of shoppers on Thursday night.

Rosen, 25, joined about 20 other shoppers in a line outside cosmetics retailer Sephora at Toronto’s Eaton Center shortly before the store opened.

About half the outlets at the downtown mall were advertising weekend or one-day sales, although few were branded “Black Friday.” By mid-morning, traffic was heavy for office hours, but lighter than on an average weekday evening.

Sephora was one exception, with about 50 shoppers in line for most of the morning, lured by steep markdowns on selected items. Another was Walt Disney Co's DIS.N Disney Store, which opened at 6 a.m. to heavy traffic, as it does every year on Black Friday. One shopper said she skipped work and waited two hours to buy toys for her grandchildren.

A handful of other stores opened at 8 a.m., including the Apple store.

Apple Inc AAPL.O is offering annual discounts on coveted products like the iPad 2, and one greeter said about 10 were waiting when the doors opened. Traffic looked to be in line with Black Friday last year, he said.

Some shoppers were underwhelmed. Janel Slater, a nurse, headed to big-box electronics retailer Best Buy BBY.N after her night shift to snag a laptop, but the store was closed.

“It’s supposed to be the sale day. I don’t understand how you have a sale opening at ten o’clock,” she complained.

The deals Slater sees in Canada are “not good, not even remotely close,” to those in the United States. But it’s still not worth the time and expense to cross the border, she said.

Some retailers that did open early were likely disappointed, however.

"The first hour was really, really slow. Like no customers," said one worker at H&M HMb.ST, who said traffic at the Swedish fashion group's store was nothing like Boxing Day, the December holiday when Canada's post-Christmas sales start.

Most Canadians do not have time off to shop this week, but that no longer deters retailers from promoting Friday or even Friday morning sales. Gap Inc's GPS.N Banana Republic's 40 percent off sale dropped to 25 percent by afternoon.

The Canadian operations of Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N branded the weekend's sales "Black Friday" this year, for the first time.

“Our customer research has shown us that there’s a very high level of awareness around branding the events as Black Friday,” said Rosalyn Carneiro, spokeswoman for Walmart Canada. “Because of our proximity to the U.S., Canadian consumers are aware of the name.”

Sears Canada SCC.TO, which ran its first Black Friday price-matching promotion last year, has a similar sale this year.

Canadians often travel to nearby U.S. cities like Buffalo, NY, or Bellingham, Wash, for Black Friday sales. But there are usually long delays to cross the border, and shoppers must pay customs duties on imported goods.

Canadians are also looking for Cyber Monday sales, according to a recent survey for PayPal Canada. It found 52 percent of Canadians were aware of the online shopping day, up from 42 percent last year.

There has been a steady increase in Cyber Monday transactions in Canada, PayPal said in a release.

Best Buy, which is not calling this weekend’s sale “Black Friday”, is advertising a “Cyber Monday” sale from late Sunday evening to early Tuesday morning.

Reporting by Allison Martell; editing by Janet Guttsman