Canadian Retailers Outdo UK for Holiday Presentation: Expert

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By Karl McKeever

In the past few days, the UK has seen its first snowfall of the winter. But there’s snow and there’s snow. And this year, it’s not just our snowfall that will likely be a pale imitation of what Canadians will enjoy.

On my visit to Toronto last month, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Canadian stores have embraced the festive season. This year, they have gone all out to really bring the wow factor, delivering a fantastic offering that leaves instore celebrations in the UK… well, out in the cold – feeling somewhat tired and underwhelming by comparison.

UK retailers follow a rather unsightly tradition of cramming stores with product, piling it high wherever there’s a modicum of space. There’s no escaping the fact that this trend hasn’t been helped since Black Friday arrived from the US – retailers competing to offer the cheapest prices, often at the expense of brand alignment and shopper experience.

By contrast, Canadian retailers appear to look at the bigger picture. Not for them a sale driven by stress and panic. Instead, they focus on experience, space and relaxation in the retail environment, igniting the magic and spirit of the season.

Toronto provided a spirited reminder of how a festive obsession can be turned into an all-out spectacle, with stores pulling out all the stops to deliver a jaw-dropping, premium visual merchandising offering which creates a shopper experience full of seasonal joy.  

Take the newly renovated CF Sherway Gardens Mall, for example, featuring gorgeous larger-than-life size stags and reindeer and baubles enveloped in white lights to provide a truly magical feel. No other decorations were used throughout the Mall – these were enough, delivering an eye-catching yet tastefully premium look and feel.

Riotous red – the unofficial colour of Christmas for retail – clearly rules this year. It’s a clever psychological ploy; adding bright colour pops to dull days and inviting warmth and cheer into the darkest of winters. And Canadian stores are delivering it with real authority for Christmas 2017.

Pottery Barn has opted for an impactful red and white theme, effortlessly bringing the spirit of Christmas to life throughout the whole store. Exquisite trees, meticulously dressed tables, and the most careful attention to detail, make this a true VM festive delight.

Nordstrom was another shining example of how to get Christmas right. Its folk theme was added to every focal point, a combination of hanging wreaths and trees, with the main theme or red running throughout the scheme. It made full use of its space, was easy to navigate and a pleasure to shop.

Williams and Sonoma… simply VM heaven. Blending crisp whites with bold reds, it is stunningly impactful, from its incredible tall biscuit tins to uber creative hot chocolate displays, taking shoppers on what can only be described as an amazing journey.

In short, I think the Canadian retailers have delivered Christmas to another level, one that we simply aren’t used to in the UK. And it’s a clear case of lessons to be learned by many UK stores. By looking to their Canadian counterparts they will surely see the value in delivering a stress-free, sensory and emotionally connected experience to shoppers. Concentrate on this and the sales will look after themselves. Ignore it, and retailers will find themselves with piles of cheap stock… and no one to buy it.

Karl McKeever is the founder and driving force behind Visual Thinking, a globally recognised retail transformation agency. A renowned retail expert, he has worked with an impressive roster of major global retail brands, including: Gap, IKEA, Harley-Davidson, John Lewis, and Marks & Spencer during his 30 year career. He has also appeared as a judge on BBC TV series, The Apprentice.

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  1. couldn’t disagree more. as having worked in retail my entire career (25yrs +) and having just come back from the UK (my third holiday season there), you sir are not in touch with holiday retail there.

  2. The outdoor decorations on Oxford Street, the fantastic show in lights on Carnaby Street and environs, the humorous window displays at Dolce and Gabbana-I was wowed by how Christmas was done in London!!! So much so that I had my wallet stolen on the night the lights were turned on!


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