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Fewer shoppers look for deals as COVID cases overshadow Boxing Day

Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman expects shift to online shopping due to Omicron
People carry shopping bags as they walk to vehicles in the parking lot at McArthur Glen Designer Outlet, on Boxing Day in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. Muted sales, quieter stores, small groups of people allowed in to maintain capacity limits due to the pandemic and “we’re hiring” signs greeted Boxing Day shoppers seeking bargains. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Bargain hunters found pared back sales and government-mandated smaller crowds as they headed out for a second pandemic-era Boxing Day on Sunday.

Canada’s two most populous provinces had 50-per-cent capacity limits in place for the second-biggest shopping day of the year, which put something of a damper on the consumerist festivities.

A lineup had formed outside the Hudson Bay building in downtown Montreal even before the doors opened at 11 a.m., and Étienne Paquette and Émilie Provost were among the first customers.

“We tried to come early to see what the situation is like,” Provost said. “After all, it doesn’t seem to be that bad, there are a few people. We are really happy to be able to continue our tradition.”

Paquette said if the streets had been busier, they would have gone home and ordered online instead.

The Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto, meanwhile, opened its doors at 8 a.m. Sunday.

Morne Viljoen, who recently moved to Toronto from South Africa, was out shopping Boxing Day for the first time in Canada.

He was looking for electronic and kitchen items “to set up his home,” he said, and began his shopping as soon as stores opened.

Viljoen said he felt “relatively safe” shopping early in the day with fewer people in stores.

Ontario province reported 9,826 new COVID-19 cases Boxing Day.

Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said in an interview Sunday that in-person shopping may take a hit this year as the highly infectious Omicron variant of the virus has been driving a surge in COVID-19 cases across much of Canada.

“Because of the new variant, I think that we will see a significant shift to online shopping today,” she said.

Opher Baron, who teaches operations management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said he’s noticed fewer Boxing Day promotions this year — potentially due to COVID-19-related supply chain issues.

“There are delays in supply chains, which cause to have a little less of the stock people want for the holidays.” he said Sunday.

Stores have had deals since November as “companies try to smooth the demand a little bit,” which explains why fewer people were queuing at shopping malls on Sunday, he said.

But Baron said shopping continues to offer escape and relief as Canadians navigate another pandemic wave.

“We are social animals so we need to go out, meet our families, make friends and this has been a long period where we are less exposed than typical,” Baron said. “Maybe some shopping will give us a better mood, at least for a little while.”

Karl Littler of Retail Council of Canada had said earlier that capacity restrictions in at least six provinces — including Ontario and Quebec — could potentially dissuade customers.

David Voss was another early customer at the Eaton Centre looking for a DVD player. While he didn’t get the deal he wanted, he said he bought one anyway.

As a retail worker at a big box store who deals with customers regularly, Voss said he felt safe shopping with protocols in place.

Ahilan Ganesalingam was looking at the Eaton Centre and a nearby Best Buy for some last-minute gifts for his nephews and a co-worker.

He wanted to get his shopping done as fast as possible so he wasn’t around too many crowds, he said.

“For my nephews, I got some stuff from Best Buy and Foot Locker,” he said. “And I’m probably going to buy some cologne for my co-worker.”

Later in the day, Toronto police said they were on scene at the Scarborough Town Centre in the city’s east end due to crowds.

“(There’s) lots of people trying to get into the mall, and it’s overflowing into the TTC station, obstructing the entrance,” police tweeted.

— With files from Christopher Reynolds, Frédéric Lacroix-Couture and Virginie Ann in Montreal, and Danielle Edwards in Halifax.

READ MORE: Gift cards rule retail as B.C.’s mall shops work around supply chain issues


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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