Retailers in Canada Must Address Changing Consumer Habits Amid Coronavirus Isolation: Expert

Retail industry news delivered directly to you. Subscribe to Retail-Insider.

Veteran retail expert George Minakakis, a global retail executive with over 25 years of experience, says the big question the industry will have to deal with once the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis is over is how does it break consumer habits that are being ingrained right now as people cocoon and shop less.

“That’s the big question. The old school will tell you that after 30 days of creating new habits they’re almost permanent. I think we all know we’re going for a longer run. Fear of catching this virus has settled in, and it’s changing our priorities, I’m calling it taking care of your “ship” if you will,” said Minakakis.

“The “s” stands for shelter taking safety in your home, the “h” stands for looking after our health, the “i” stands for being informed and the “p” stands for play, looking for ways to pass time and deal with this. This is pre-shaping everybody’s minds in their homes. There’s no wants in this. It’s needs.”

George Minakakis
George Minakakis

Everybody is asking him how do they rebound out of this? It depends on how entrepreneurial and optimistic you are, is your cup half full or it is half empty or is your cup “Trump full.”

“Donald Trump thought that this would have been over by Easter but the reality is that it’s ongoing. The longer this goes there will be fallout with the consumer because they are moving to ecommerce far more than ever before,” said Minakakis.

Reality will come to bear when authorities tell the public they can go on with their normal daily activities and go out. But what is on the consumer’s mind? How has this changed them? Does the risk of a second wave of the virus hitting curb their appetite for shopping freely? Will people take that chance and go to a mall? Probably not. It’s not going to happen, said Minakakis, who is CEO of the Inception Retail Group.

“Everything that is being reshaped right now is about necessity,” he said.

“At the end of the day whatever we’re seeing by way of consumer behaviour in Asia is what’s going to happen here. They’re not in a hurry to go back in the stores. You’re hearing stuff in China. I lived in China. I wouldn’t count on what you hear that the consumer is back. Maybe some but not everybody. At the end of the day you’re going to find people going back out to shop but for necessities not for any wants or apparel or for any experiences, nor going into a restaurant or a bar.

“I know that all of that is going to be pared back a great deal because the risk is still on everybody’s mind. Consumer behaviour is being reshaped by fear, you’ve been told to isolate, practice social distancing, you’ve been told to wash your hands frequently. Are consumers going to return to malls or stores where it’s shoulder to shoulder? Not likely. Not right now.”

Minakakis said if there is not a next wave of the coronavirus in the fall then things will start returning to normal and we will have dodged a bullet.

“But if we have another wave, whatever has been imprinted in our minds in terms of behaviours we will carry that on forward because now we’re scared twice not once,” he said.

This new environment will force retailers to change to adjust and accommodate the nervous consumer.


View this post on Instagram


We are a gathering space for our community and a place that brings people together. Our commitment to our community remains unwavering as we navigate these uncertain and unprecedented times.⠀ ⠀ To help keep everyone as safe as possible, and to play our part in the containment of COVID-19, in compliance with the order of the Government of Ontario on March 23, 2020 and further clarified in a press conference by Premier Ford on March 24, 2020, we are closing Yorkdale Shopping Centre effective 11:59 pm, on Tuesday, March 24 for the next 14 days. During this time, stores deemed essential will remain open and operational to ensure our community has access to essential services.⠀ ⠀ We understand this is a highly dynamic and evolving situation and we commit to providing you with regular updates. To help you prepare as much as possible, we will also be in contact as soon as we’re notified that it is appropriate to re-open.⠀ ⠀ We will continue to provide ongoing updates on our website⠀ ⠀ We continue to encourage you to closely follow the advice of our local health authorities. Our thoughts remain with our community during this dynamic and evolving situation. We look forward to the day we can reopen and welcome our community back to Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

A post shared by Yorkdale Style (@yorkdalestyle) on


View this post on Instagram


Only essential retailers and select restaurants remain open at this time. For more information, please visit the link in the bio.

A post shared by CF Chinook Centre (@cfchinookcentre) on

“They’re going to have to do something to give trust to the consumer that the retail environment that they’re walking into and the workplace that the employees are in is safe. How do you do that without significant redesigns of stores and operations?,” said Minakakis. “Those are some very complex challenges that retailers are going to be faced with coming out of this.”

“Experience says and history shows that we don’t prepare very well for change. People don’t and business doesn’t. Because of that, how are you going to prepare for this next retail environment?”

Minakakis said he believes that malls are in real trouble and they need to be rethinking shopping. Consumers will be looking for health and safety aspects in their shopping choices. I believe they will choose open air centres versus a closed shopping environment. Store choices will also be tricky if it’s too small and crowded.

“How do you define customer experience when the experience now is contactless. ‘I don’t want to have an interaction with somebody face to face’. That’s part of the whole re-shaping of the marketplace. E-commerce will take care of some of those concerns, but not all. It’s going to have a lot of retailers in a quandary,” he added.

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 now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

More From The Author

Amazon Prepares to Bring Employees Back to Canadian Offices and the...

Tamir Bar-Haim, site lead at Amazon’s Toronto Tech Hub, discusses the economic impacts of the return of thousands of office workers to the downtown core.

Return of CFL Games Good for Retail After Missing Last Season:...

The return of the Canadian Football League after missing last season will be a boon for teams selling merchandise through their own stores and other retail outlets.


  1. Finally someone has brought up the fact that retail store design and operations should change to create a safe shopping experience. Up til now no one has mentioned this. Retailers need to be proactive in creating the "new normal" shopping environments. Its up to the retailers and malls to put those measures in place.
    If they think they can just open the doors and it goes on as it was, its not going to happen.
    As a visual merchandiser/store design consultant I have been thinking of ideas that if executed properly will give the customer the confidence that they are in a safe place.
    The fact we know this virus most likely won’t have a vaccine til fall 2021 makes the expenditure of re-setting retail environments worth it.
    The fact no collective retail standards are in place for how to deal with this, except staying 6ft apart is surprising. If everybody is in this together alone, it’s time to start looking at the big picture and do the right thing. I am available to help and I like to be part of bringing retail back into this new way of doing business. So if anybody is interested, reach out to me at and lets create the "new normal" of retail.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here



* indicates required
Get Connected



- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -