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Doing Business with America's Top Trade Partners? The Holidays You Need to Know

ByLori Fairbanks,
business.com writer
|
Apr 16, 2019
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> Business Basics
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International holidays present challenges and opportunities for sellers.

If you're based in the U.S. and your business sells products to American consumers, you're likely very familiar with the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy that begins on Black Friday, and the shipping challenges that cumulate through the day before Christmas. If your business manufactures goods for American retailers, your busy season starts well before then as you scramble to produce and ship large quantities of your products to your retail customers ahead of the Christmas rush.

But if you source or sell products internationally, there are other major holidays that need to be on your radar, as they can ether interrupt your supply chain or, like Christmas, present you with an opportunity to increase your sales. Country-specific and regional holidays can also present challenges to business travelers and companies with international offices.

The top three countries that the U.S. imports goods from and exports goods to, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, are Canada, Mexico and China. Below, we've listed the public holidays for these top trade partners, information about their biggest shopping days and notes about the holidays that can disrupt business as usual.

Most public holidays are one-day events scheduled for Mondays or Fridays, but some festivities, like Christmas, extend beyond published dates. There are also regional, religious and cultural holidays that aren't listed here, so you'll want to ask the businesses you sell product to if they plan to increase their order sizes to meet certain holiday demands. If you order product from overseas, you'll want to ask your contacts whether there are holidays that delay production or shipping, and how early you'll need to order in such instances to avoid running out of stock.

Canada

Canadians celebrate some of the same holidays as the U.S., but a few, such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving, are observed on different dates. Like in the U.S., Christmas is the biggest gift-giving holiday of the year, so you'll want to plan for shipping delays leading up to the holiday and place or ship orders accordingly.

Black Friday (yes, it's the same day-after-American-Thanksgiving event) is a major shopping day, though the weekend before Christmas is the biggest shopping period of the year. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, is also an extremely popular shopping day, as every store runs a sale.

Here's a list of Canada's public holidays:

  • New Year's Day: Jan. 1
  • Good Friday: The Friday before Easter
  • Victoria Day: May 20
  • Canada Day: July 1
  • Civic Holiday (excluding Quebec and Yukon): First Monday in August
  • Labor Day: The first Monday of September
  • Thanksgiving Day: The second Monday in October
  • Remembrance Day: Nov. 11
  • Christmas Day: Dec. 25
  • Boxing Day: Dec. 26

Mexico

You're likely to recognize several of Mexico's holidays, such as Day of the Dead and the two before Easter, but like in Canada and the U.S., Mexico's biggest gift-giving holiday is Christmas. Shopping for this season starts with El Buen Fin – or The Good Weekend – which is a nationwide shopping event held the second weekend of November (the weekend before Revolution Day). Like on Black Friday, stores offer discounts and extended hours. In 2018, shoppers spent 101,500 million Mexican pesos, which is more than $5 billion.

Writing for LABS, the Latin America Business School by Ebanx, Marcela Xavier said that international online retailers wishing to participate in this sales event should offer free shipping, accept local payment methods and advertise deals in advance. But they should be careful not to infringe on the copyright of the event's name.

"El Buen Fin is a registered brand and the use of its name is restricted to official participants," Xavier wrote. "They can only be Mexican organizations … However, businesses from other countries can and should benefit from the prolonged weekend of sales, as long as they are mindful of any copyright infringements."

If you're doing business with Mexican companies, you may experience delays during the week before Easter and the Christmas season. In a blog post for online retailer MexGrocer.com, Ignacio Hernandez explains that in Mexico, long weekends are called bridges ("puentes") and people joke "that the longest bridge in Mexico is the 'Puente Guadalupe Reyes.' This is because it runs from Dec. 12, the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to Kings Day on Jan. 6. The fact is almost everything slows down over this holiday span."

Here's a list of Mexico's national holidays:

  • New Year's Day: Jan. 1
  • Constitution Day: The first Monday in February
  • Benito Juarez's Birthday: The Monday nearest to March 21
  • Maundy Thursday: The Thursday before Easter
  • Good Friday: The Friday before Easter
  • Labor Day: May 1
  • Independence Day: Sept. 16
  • All Souls Day (Day of the Dead): Nov. 2
  • Revolution Day: The third Monday in November
  • Inauguration Day (every six years): Dec. 1
  • Christmas Day: Dec. 25

China

China exports more goods to the U.S. than any other country, so when its manufacturing businesses close for several weeks – in some cases more than a month – for Chinese New Year, it affects supply chains for many American businesses.

This celebration, also called the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, marks the world's largest annual human migration as 385 million workers leave major cities to visit their families in rural China. Many factories close a week to 10 days before the holiday begins to allow for travel time.

Observance dates vary from year to year, as the holiday is based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar, but it typically begins between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20. Hong Kong and Taiwan also observe this holiday. 

In a blog post for freight solutions company Unicargo, Refael Elbaz explained that it may take a week or two after the holiday for factories to return to normal production levels. Many face labor shortages, as workers look for new employment opportunities and negotiate for higher wages at this time.

"For the customers, it means that even if they make an order before or during the holiday, there is no guarantee that the factory will be able to meet the production lead time it has committed to," Elbaz said.

Another holiday that can cause delays is Chinese Golden Week, a weeklong festival that begins with National Day on Oct. 1, as factories are closed during this time. However, it's also a big shopping week, with stores offering large discounts, which may be an opportunity for businesses that export goods to Chinese retailers.

China's biggest shopping day is Singles' Day on Nov. 11, and it's actually the world's largest shopping holiday. In 2018, popular Chinese online retailer Alibaba sold $30.8 billion of merchandise on Singles' Day. By comparison, Amazon sold $6.22 billion on Black Friday and $7.9 billion on Cyber Monday.

The day was founded in the 1990s by college students as a day to celebrate young, single people. It grew into a major shopping event when online retail giant Alibaba began encouraging singles to buy luxury items for themselves. Frank Lavin, writing for Forbes, said the spirit of the holiday "is captured by a Chinese saying, 'If you cannot be with someone you like, you can at least be with something you like.'"

Businesses wanting to participate in this shopping extravaganza need to plan ahead. In 2018, products needed to be in Alibaba's Chinese warehouses by Sept. 1.

Here's a list of China's official public holidays:

  • New Year's Day: Jan. 1
  • Chinese New Year: Varies, usually between Jan. 21 and Feb. 20
  • Tomb-Sweeping Day (Qingming, or Ching Ming Festival): Usually in April
  • Labor Day (or May Day): May 1
  • Dragon Boat Festival: Usually in June
  • Mid-Autumn Festival: Usually in September or October
  • National Day (Chinese Golden Week): Oct. 1-7
Lori Fairbanks
Lori Fairbanks
See Lori Fairbanks's Profile
I write about financial systems and services for small businesses (such as accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems) for Business.com and Business News Daily.
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