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The Future of Retail in Canada

Downtown shops
Downtown shops

As the leading voices of retail in Canada, the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), work with businesses and all levels of government to implement cohesive strategies that help Canadian retailers thrive. 

Michael LeBlanc

Michael LeBlanc

Senior Retail Advisor, Retail Council of Canada

What does the current retail landscape look like in Canada?

Across retail in Canada, we’re seeing a divide between retail experience versus efficiency and value versus luxury retailers. It’s fiercely competitive and retailers must focus on their niche and the specific value they provide for their customers. Additionally, there really is no retail apocalypse. Rather, we see it as a transformation from e-commerce to omnichannel retailers.

What are the best retailers doing to succeed?

The best retailers are harnessing the disruption around them and adapting to trends, technology, and evolving consumer behaviours. Retailers are also focusing on the in-store experience and how they can make their retail environment as productive as possible. This includes using technology, incorporating employee management strategies, and orienting experimentation to ensure their in-store conversion rate is as high as possible.

What roles do different channels play in retail?

While overall retail growth is relatively flat, we’re seeing a channel shift as e-commerce continues to grow. Having a cohesive consumer-focused online strategy is a massive component of success. Although e-commerce is rapidly growing, physical retail is a vital aspect of any market strategy which accounts for most sales and serves as an effective marketing vehicle when properly executed. This is why we’re seeing these former pure play digital retailers such as Indochino, Casper, and Amazon open up brick-and-mortar stores, so they can harness the experience and convenience aspects of retail.

Ryan Mallough

Ryan Mallough

Director of Provincial Affairs for Ontario, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

What are some big challenges independent retailers are facing?

Smaller retailers are really feeling the squeeze from online retail giants like Amazon. They’ve got higher overheads with less visibility and less heft in negotiating low prices from their suppliers. On top of that, we’ve been hearing from more and more retailers about a new consumer trend called showrooming, which is when a customer goes to a local brick-and-mortar store to look at or try on a product and get expert advice from the business owner, only to turn around and buy it online. It’s really hurting smaller retailers and their neighbourhoods.

What do you want to say to shoppers who may be showrooming?

Local stores make our neighbourhoods unique and vibrant. They’re the ones supporting youth hockey leagues, donating to charitable causes, and employing members of the community. At the same time, they have to pay their rents, property taxes, and employees. They can’t afford to do all these good things and to serve as a showroom for online retailers and bigger competitors. Supporting local retailers means supporting our communities. We think it’s worth the effort.

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