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Retail Council of Canada Survey Forecasts Strong December Holiday Season for Retailers [Interviews/Analysis]

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Huge annual shopping events over the upcoming holiday season, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day, are expected to be busier this year than last year, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

Diane J.Brisbois, President and CEO of Retail Council of Canada

And Canadian consumers expect to spend more money on average.

“Canadians are ready to put the disruption of COVID behind them and are looking forward to returning to brick-and-mortar stores,” said Diane J. Brisebois, President and CEO of the Council.

“Nevertheless, they are buying differently than they were prior to the pandemic. While it is expected that there will be more in-store buying this year, the blend between physical and online shopping will continue to evolve and consumers expect to have more choices in how and where the products they purchase are picked up and delivered. Additionally, with the removal of some of the more restrictive COVID mitigation measures, consumers will need extra assurances that physical distancing and other safety measures will be maintained so that they can enjoy the products, promotions, and unique festive experiences retailers will be offering.”

The RCC’s 4th annual Holiday Shopping Survey, of over 2,500 Canadians from coast to coast, found that average holiday spending this year is expected to be $792 compared to $693 last year. The Council said historically consumers’ actual spending is more than they plan so this year’s actual spend could be more than $800.

Brisebois said the results of the survey are certainly better than those of 2020 and are starting to mirror the results of 2019, pre-pandemic.

“That’s encouraging. And what’s also encouraging is that the majority of consumers are saying they want to make those purchases in-store which is welcome news for a lot of our retailers who even though they may have a strong online presence they’re also very focused on their brick and mortar operations,” she said.

A key factor in the strong consumer response to spending this year during the holidays is the fact that most provinces have reopened businesses. Brisebois said late fall in 2020 was when governments started to put in additional restrictions on retail and for a good part of that holiday season many of the brick and mortar retailers were considered non-essential and had to close.

Woman shops online during the holiday period.
Woman shops online during the holiday period.

“That meant that people could not shop in-store. The other element that changes the numbers year over year is the fact that because we have such a large number of Canadians vaccinated they are starting to socialize and so they are planning for holiday get-togethers, for family gift giving. Last year, people were just not buying their friends, or cousins, or acquaintances or colleagues, gifts for the holidays because they couldn’t see them. They were really buying for themselves and within their household whereas now people are saying yes we’re planning to get together, we’re planning holiday events, we’re seeing more people, hopefully in a socially safe manner, which means they’re buying more food, more liquor, more wine. They’re buying gifts for those they haven’t seen or been able to socialize with for a long time.”

Brisebois said this holiday shopping season will be a boost for retailers across the country who have struggled with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year and a half.

The RCC report said supply chain issues facing consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers have been widely reported around the world. 

“As a result, it is anticipated that retail availability of certain items may be tighter than in years past, particularly in late November and December. Consumers that plan ahead and shop early will increase their chances of finding the products and brands they want for the holiday season. And, with expected labour shortages, shopping early will allow consumers to avoid long line-ups or shipping/delivery delays,” said RCC.

The report also found:

  • Canadians are planning to begin shopping earlier and more are planning to take advantage of holiday sales and product availability. 30 per cent vs 23 per cent in 2020 plan to begin shopping before November;
  • November will remain the busiest shopping month. 36 per cent of consumers plan to begin their 2021 holiday shopping in November. 43 per cent (vs 41 per cent in 2020) plan to shop on Black Friday, 35 per cent (vs 34 per cent in 2020) plan to shop on Cyber Monday and 34 per cent per cent (vs 32 per cent in 2020) plan to shop on Boxing Day;
  • In-store shopping will increase but online will continue to be strong, emphasizing once again the importance for retailers to provide seamless experiences across their selling channels. 63 per cent (vs 58 per cent in 2020) of total purchases are expected to be in-store this year and 37 per cent (vs 42 per cent in 2020) will be online.  Pre-pandemic in 2019, 72 per cent of total purchases were planned to be in-store and 28 per cent online;
  • Supporting local retailers continues to be important to Canadians. 78 per cent feel it is important to shop locally, with 81 per cent of those respondents saying it is especially important to support local retailers that have suffered due to lockdowns; and
  • Product categories that Canadians will spend the most on have shifted, with clothing taking top spot this year, surpassing food, alcohol, and candy that has dropped to second spot. Top categories are: clothing (16 per cent vs 15 per cent in 2020), food, alcohol, candies or sweets for entertaining (12 per cent vs 19 per cent in 2020), toys (10 per cent vs 10 per cent in 2020) and personal electronics (eight per cent vs eight per cent in 2020).

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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