Foot Traffic Picks Up in Canadian Shopping Centres as Pandemic Approaches 2-Year Mark: Interviews

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Canadian shoppers have returned to shopping centres and they started doing this in early November prior to Black Friday primarily because of concerns over supply chain issues and whether there will be problems with retail inventory this year.

“We’ve never seen holiday shopping begin this early. People are craving a return to normal and shopping centres offer an engaging way to get into the holiday spirit,” said Bradley Jones, Head of Retail, Oxford Properties. “Timing will be more important than ever with the level of activity we’re seeing this early in the season. Shoppers should plan to shop early for specific inventory and consider shopping on weekdays or early or later in the day on weekends.

“We’re seeing a different distribution of traffic. We’re getting more traffic Thursday night, Friday and weekend traffic than we are earlier on in the week. We have got our extended hours in place. Our traffic is generally running anywhere between 15 and 20 per cent below pre-COVID and that’s sort of an average across our portfolio across the country.

Image: Southcentre Mall’s Enchanted Forest

“But what’s interesting is that although the traffic has not returned 100 per cent, the average basket size is larger. People are spending more money because they’re having very purposeful shopping trips. And we’re experiencing that many customers have been shopping earlier this year because of the concern about supply chain and being able to actually get the product or the goods in their hand so that they can give to loved ones and friends at Christmas versus relying on courier companies or businesses to be able to have the product perhaps online. So we’re seeing physical coming back. We’re seeing customers wanting to be in shopping centres for the experience. It’s turning out to be quite positive for our business.”

Bradley Jones

Oxford Properties’ Ontario shopping centres, which include Yorkdale, Square One, Scarborough Town Centre, Upper Canada and Hillcrest, are offering a range of holiday services to assist shoppers before they set out, including digital inventory search and curbside pick up.

In its recent, 2021 Retail Holiday Survey, commercial real estate firm JLL found that 85 per cent of shoppers say they are going to return to shopping centres this holiday season and they’re going to be spending more time and more money in those malls.

Jones said what’s really important is that shopping centre owners continue to follow the Health Canada protocols when it comes to COVID, which Oxford has been very diligent on.

Image: The Grinch’s Grotto at Square One.

“We need to continue to assure our customers that our buildings are a safe place to come and visit and enjoy the experience,” he said. “That’s first and foremost and I think we have done a very good job there. The local health departments in all of our assets have been very pleased with the protocols that we have put in place and I think generally speaking the public feel quite safe in our assets and are returning to them as such.

“But we all know that customers want unique experiences. Food and beverage is playing a very important role in those experiences and we are trying to offer more and more unique opportunities because when we do that we know the customer stays longer and the average basket size goes up when they have places to eat.

“We also recognize that customers want different experiences that they can’t get by shopping on the web and for example we’ve put in an Avengers’ installation in a vacant unit in Yorkdale and that’s attracting a lot of new customers to our asset. About 30 per cent of the customers coming to those unique, entertainment type uses are new to the asset. So that’s very, very positive for us and we’re very focused on creating these unique and new experiences for our customers that they can’t get by sitting at home or being on the web.”

Jones said Oxford is very hopeful that the traffic will continue right through the holiday season to the Boxing Day period.

Scarborough Town Centre (Image: Oxford Properties)
Louis Vuitton at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Craig Patterson)

“The customer, really while we were in lockdown primarily in the Ontario centres, they didn’t have a choice. The centres were closed. So I think there’s real pent-up demand for getting out, being with family and friends, socializing, collaborating, walking through the mall, having a lunch or dinner, going to these entertainment type uses, back to the theatre,” said Jones.

“We feel strongly that there’s a real movement back to that. We’re hopeful. We don’t know what the end result will be but certainly there seems to be a trend back to the physical because people just want a different experience than online that they’ve been getting.”

Visits with Santa are important traditions and Safe Santa experiences are available at all Oxford Properties shopping centres. Santa is fully vaccinated, will be masked and socially distanced from guests. All staff are also masked and fully vaccinated and the entire experience includes masking and social distancing practices. Surfaces will be cleaned after each visit. Guests must wear masks for their photos and can bring their own festive masks and must complete COVID-19 screening upon check in, prior to visiting Santa.

Traditional holiday services such as gift wrapping are returning to Oxford Properties’ shopping centres this year.

Oxford gift cards are a popular stocking stuffer, and recipients can use them at any store within the centre.

Oxford Gift Cards at Royal Bank Plaza
Oxford Gift Cards at Royal Bank Plaza (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Guest Services staff are available to respond to inquiries about holiday services, store information, parking and more.

Many stores are offering curbside pickup with dedicated stalls. Participating retailers can be found on shopping centre websites’ Curbside Pickup page along with a map of the locations. Purchases and pickups are made directly with each retailer.

Oxford’s ShopNOW service is available on each shopping centre website and makes it easier than ever to search for products before you visit.

The directional map on shopping centre websites is available to guide the experience.

Extended hours began November 26 and will continue until January 2, 2022.

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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