SAANICH -- Black Friday is back, but this year – under a pandemic – the retail landscape is all new.

“It has been an absolute gong-show,” said Bob Ianson, owner of Heirloom Linens in Saanich.

Heirloom Linens in Broadmead Village saw fewer Black Friday shoppers in their store than last year but today’s online orders caught them off guard.

“What COVID has done is that it’s forced people who haven’t traditionally shopped on a website in their lives (to go), 'Well I guess I’m going to try this out,'” said Ianson.

In the back of the store, staff can’t pack orders fast enough as they try to keep up with online demand and curbside pick-ups.

However, business owners still say the biggest challenge for retailers is to get online shoppers to think local.

“Christmas is their biggest time of the year,” said Langford Mayor Stew Young. “You know it's the difference between a business failing or surviving.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Langford launched it’s “I Am Langford” campaign in an effort to urge people to support local businesses.

“It’s gotten the awareness out that we needed,” said Young. “If there is an opportunity to shop local, probably take that over Amazon.”

“Canadians spend, on average, a $1,000 over the Black Friday weekend,” said Dr. Mark Colgate, professor of marketing at the Gustavson School of Business. “There’s a lot of money up for grabs.”

That’s why retailers have had to adjust their business models to compete with their online competitors.

“We call it omni-channel retailing,” said Chris Forbes, district manager with Andre’s Electronic Experts in Langford. “We have to offer everything that the public wants and we do that.”

That includes online purchases, curbside pick-up and contactless delivery. But that all comes with a cost to the business.

“It’s the cost of doing business that is there,” said Forbes. “You just have to absorb it and move on.”

Colgate says there is a way for local retailers to keep those costs down, if they work together.

“If you go in alone there’s a lot of costs involved – but imagine if you had 20 or 30 retailers coming together locally,” said Colgate. “Sharing that distribution, sharing the packaging and the website costs. Then I think it makes a lot more sense as well.”

This year's Black Friday may look a bit different, but most local retailers agree – COVID-19 can go, but shopping local should always come back.