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How Canadian Retail Has Changed Over the Past 15 Years

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Montreal-based Ruscio Studio, a commercial interior design firm specializing in retail, was founded in 2002 and over the past 15 years it’s seen numerous changes in the sector as well as trends starting to take hold for the future.

Robert Ruscio, the company’s president, says the designer’s work is across Canada as well as into the United States and other parts of the world, focusing on all types of individual stores to major renovations for shopping centres.

Robert Ruscio, President of Ruscio Studio

“The demographic shift continues to influence retail,” says Ruscio, who leads a company of about 15 staff. “The boomers are starting to get matched by the millennials in terms of percentages. And in fact what will happen, as the boomers pass away, we are going to see an increase in millennials who are our consumers. That’s already brought changes but we’re continuing to see some of these changes because of the different shopping habits that this particular generation has.”

“We also have to consider that one in five Canadians is going to be foreign born or immigrants. One of the changes we’re seeing is that millennials interestingly enough, although they are prone to shopping online, do prefer and enjoy shopping in malls . . . It’s the brand experience. This is something very important. This is what currently all retailers are looking for and exploring. This is something we’re going to see more and more of as this shift is taking place. The physical store is the touchpoint for that brand experience.”

Ruscio says more foreign retailers are coming into Canadian shopping centres. Over the past 15 years, this has been a clear trend. Previously, the majority of retailers in malls were based in Canada. But today that has shifted as international retailers have surpassed national retailers especially in the bigger A class malls.

“These are brands that are tried and tested and when they come here to Canada they come also with all the marketing muscle. These are stores that do offer some sort of brand experience,” says Ruscio.

Because of the growing immigrant population, Canada is much more prone now to accepting foreign brands.

“There’s an acceptance, there’s a thirst, for discovering the new brands,” adds Ruscio.

One of the trends he’s seen in recent years is downsizing by retailers of their stores. Rents are rising and online sales are cutting back the amount of inventory needed in bricks and mortar stores.

Pop-up retail is also becoming more popular as stores suddenly start operating in a retail landscape that includes shopping centres, other stores and on the street.

“They often have a brand message. New product launch. New brand positioning. New target market,” says Ruscio. “We’re going to see a lot more of it. It’s an opportunity for brands to try a different market. To do marketing launches . . . It draws attention and it makes people curious.”

Ruscio says millennials are all about food and the dining experience and that’s having an impact on shopping centres across the country as they adapt to that dynamic.

“They don’t particularly crave ordinary food court offerings. They would rather experience authenticity or the best of over convenience. That’s the food hall – the market-like setting which has risen in popularity over recent years in Europe and across the world and will be making a greater presence in North America,” says Ruscio.

“The food hall is like a revival of a farmers’ market . . . The whole idea of being able to eat and buy something on the spot as well as purchasing products to bring them home is something that is very appealing to the millennials.”

Expect to see more entertainment in the malls as well. A good example of that is Cineplex’s Rec Room, which is a large centre offering various games and other forms of entertainment.

Ruscio says there’s also a broadening polarity between discount and luxury stores but today’s consumer visits both and also today retailers are not shy about advertising their online shopping alternative at their bricks and mortar locations.

Ruscio has one more interesting trend which shows how much the times have changed in the past 15 years. He remembers how in the past he was often chased out of places because he was not allowed to take pictures in the stores.

“Today, it’s quite the contrary where stores actually have Instagrammable areas that encourage the customer to take pictures of the store and post them as much as they can. And no one ever tells me today to put away the camera,” says Ruscio.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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