Brick-and-Mortar Retail Dominates for Holiday Shoppers in Canada: Studies

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As the holiday shopping season heats up for Christmas, one thing is becoming abundantly clear when it comes to the behaviour of Canadian shoppers.

They are not abandoning bricks and mortar stores in any way.

A national survey conducted for the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) association indicated that 46 per cent of respondents plan to spend the largest part of their holiday gift budget in store. Another 16 per cent indicate they will spend the most online, while one third think they will spend roughly the same amount in store and online. The remaining six per cent don’t know.


Also, the Holiday Shopping in Canada Survey 2018, by the Retail Council of Canada, found that physical stores will experience the largest share of holiday spending with 74 per cent of people surveyed saying they will be shopping in store and 20 per cent online with computers and/or tablets and six per cent online with mobile devices.


“We all hear about the death of bricks and mortar and I think maybe it’s a little bit like Mark Twain. You know ‘the rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated’. We’re really seeing quite clearly that people are spending, according to our survey, primarily in stores rather than online with almost half expecting to do most of their shopping in stores and only 16 per cent who expect to do it mostly online,” said Doretta Thompson, director of corporate citizenship for CPA Canada.

“That’s really good news for retailers. I think consumers, especially around holiday time and buying gifts for others, really value that touch and feel of the merchandise. They want to be very sure about what they’re getting. And that human connection with customer service. I also wonder the extent to which delivery times and shipping costs play into people’s decision around gift-giving. Not to mention, I think for a lot of people it’s just part of what the holidays mean. That kind of excitement around the physical looking at gifts.”

The CPA survey was conducted prior to the rotating Canada Post strikes but it had been talked about at the time as a possibility.

“I do think that may well have been a factor as well and remember you also have a percentage of people that do their shopping last-minute and those people are always going to be doing bricks and mortar,” added Thompson. 

CPA Canada’s 2018 Holiday Spending Study also found:

  • 84 per cent of those surveyed said they plan to spend less than $1,000 on gifts, including five per cent who will spend nothing;

  • 13 per cent anticipate spending more than $1,000 on seasonal presents;

  • 64 per cent plan on spending less than $200 on travel and 76 per cent expect to spend less than $400 on entertaining;

  • 64 per cent do not save throughout the year for holiday gifts;

  • 67 per cent do not believe they will overspend this year, but if they do it will be for their immediate family and 69 per cent indicated they would be likely to go over budget for their children or significant others;

  • 52 per cent indicated they will plan out their spending and 46 per cent said they will not, with two per cent unsure;

  • 11 per cent plan to leave holiday shopping until the last minute; and

  • 58 per cent belong to at least one retail loyalty program specifically to save money while shopping.

 “The really big takeaway is that most Canadians don’t anticipate overspending on the holidays. That’s really indicative and pretty consistent with our past research this year with summer spending that people are becoming more cautious. That there’s in general a rise in the (cost of) basics and that’s affecting people’s plans,” said Thompson.

The summer research indicated that the costs of food, energy and transportation were pushing down people’s spending plans.

“When you see those kinds of increases on the basics, people become more cautious which is a good thing . . . that they’re recognizing this. We’re seeing it with the number of people who are budgeting . . . People do have a sense of reasonableness.”

The Retail Council of Canada holiday spending survey found that the average intended spend for the 2018 Christmas season will be $675 with 66 per cent of people spending the same as the year before 11 per cent spending more and 19 per cent spending less.

Although 65 per cent of Canadians plan to have a firm budget for spending during the 2018 holiday season, nearly one in three  (28 per cent) ended up spending more than they planned last year during the 2017 holiday season.

Thompson said the CPA survey also showed that there’s a really sizeable percentage of Canadians who belong to loyalty programs.

“That use of loyalty cards really kind of cements relationship. And relationships become important especially around holiday time,” said Thompson.

“People like the idea of benefiting from places that they normally shop at. I think that’s very attractive to people. I think also the use of the new apps that are emerging where you can actually carry all of your loyalty cards on your phone in a single app is really attractive to people as well. The use of apps is likely increasing not just sign-ups for loyalty but use for loyalty.”

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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