VANCOUVER -- Retailers across B.C. are starting Black Friday discounts early in an effort to keep shoppers safe. As cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, it’s hoped consumers will be able to spread out their visits to stores, but still score some deals.

Black Friday sales are known for large crowds and queues.

“Because of the pandemic and the safety guidelines, the last thing merchants wanted was to have door crashers,” said Diane Briseboisis, the president & CEO of the Retail Council of Canada.

That’s also the reason Pacific Centre in Vancouver moved to extended hours earlier.

“It's safer to spread the shopping experience over a period of time rather than jam everybody here on Black Friday,” said the centre’s general manager, Lillian Tummonds.

Since masks were made mandatory in public spaces in B.C., Tummonds says the mall has added extra staff on the floor to monitor for compliance.

“It’s about education and we also do provide masks for shoppers who don’t have one; they’re available at guest services.” Tunmmonds said. “We’re pretty close to 99 per cent compliance.”

One of the biggest retailers, Best Buy, has been offering discounts since the start of the month, but the store leader at the company’s Cambie Street location, Derek Krone, said the “true Black Friday flyer” launched Sunday and goes through Dec. 3.

As with most stores, there is a limit to how many people can be inside at a time. Krone says Best Buy offers a virtual check-in system for busy times so shoppers can wait in their car or in a coffee shop and be alerted when there is space for them to enter the store.

The shopping season in B.C. comes as other parts of Canada are seeing more shutdowns. Shoppers in Toronto flocked to malls on Sunday before non-essential businesses were forced to close.

Briseboisis says she’s “really happy to see the retail activity in British Columbia,” but is also urging shoppers to shop early, shop safe and shop local.

“We are reminding all consumers to think about how much they’re going to spend this holiday season and how much they should put aside to ensure that they are, in fact, supporting their local merchants,” she said.

Smaller retailers across Vancouver are asking consumers to avoid spending their money on Amazon this holiday season.