Canadian Retailers Not Innovating as Industry Rapidly Evolves Globally: Expert

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How can a country who, according to Comscore, spends more time online than any other country in the world not be a major player in ecommerce?

It’s a key question posed by Doug Stephens in his ebook, Omnipresence Retail in Canada: Waking Up the Sleeping Giant.

In his book, Stephens, an international retail expert, writes that Canadian businesses aren’t innovating.

“This was the in-your-face reality contained in a recent study by Bloomberg that rated the relative innovativeness of 50 developed and developing countries. In it, Canada turned up in the decidedly mediocre 22nd position, just behind Italy and falling two spots from its 2017 ranking,” he writes.

“It’s also worth noting that Canada ranked a full 11 positions below the United States – which as it happens also dropped two positions, from 9th in 2017 to 11th in 2018. Bloomberg’s index took into account a wide variety of criteria including research and development intensity, productivity, high-tech density and of course, patent activity. And so it seems that the country that gave the world insulin, light bulbs, the pacemaker, BlackBerry and, let’s not forget, five-pin bowling, has lost its innovation mojo and done so at a time when the battle cry in just about every business is ‘innovate or die’.

“Perhaps nowhere in the Canadian business sector has the relative dearth of innovation become as conspicuous as in its retail industry in general and digital commerce in particular. Canada has just never shown itself to be wildly innovative when it comes to digital retail.”  

And that, adds Stephens, begs the following questions:

  • How on earth can a country that, according to the World Economic Forum, has the second highest overall standard of living on the planet not also be a voracious consumer of online goods?;

  • How can a land where upwards of 80 percent of the population carries a smartphone be lagging in mobile commerce?; and

  • How can a place with such high education levels and diversity find itself so far behind the innovation curve?

    As of 2017 ecommerce climbed by 14 per cent per year, while brick and mortar retail grew in the low single-digits. Unabated, it’s reasonable to assume that ecommerce as a percentage of total retail could grow to become up to 28 per cent of the Canadian retail economy by as early as 2028, says the book.

Stephens says that the inherent problem is that Canadian retailers will not survive by following in the vapor trail of Amazon – or anyone else for that matter.

“They won’t create the future of retail by simply replicating what has already passed. Instead, I encourage Canadian retailers to look more distantly onto the horizon and more broadly at the seismic shifts occurring in consumer behavior.

He says Canadian retailers must step up to accept the reality that unless it’s bolted down, it ships and it ships fast.

“We estimate that by as early as 2025, the majority of items found in the centre aisles of a grocery store will be largely purchased through sensor driven ordering or subscriptions,” says Stephens.

“Canadian retailers should be working now to formulate how they can lead the way in this burgeoning replenishment economy.”

He also says Canadian brands should be asking how they too, can attract, develop and nurture powerful online tribes of customers – regardless of what they sell.

Stephens says 25 years ago retailers built stores primarily to merchandise assortments, to impart product and promotional information and to transact sales. Media was simply a tool used to draw people to physical retail.

“Today this formula is being inverted. Media, in all its various forms, is a far more effective means of displaying vast product selections, delivering infinitely more robust and detailed product information and processing dramatically faster transactions,” he writes.

“Media is no longer simply a call-out to visit a store. Media is the store and Canadian retailers can lead the revolution.”

The full ebook can be found here:

The ebook is sponsored by Salesforce, connect with your customers like never before with the world’s #1 CRM platform.

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
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 News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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