Amid all of the uncertainty and disruption that’s blighted the past couple of years, interrupting the way in which we do things, there is one undeniability: the fact that the retail experience is transforming. Driven by a confluence of impacts of the pandemic, the digitization of the world around us and evolving consumer preferences and behaviour, it’s a transformation that’s requiring retailers everywhere to re-examine, reassess and, in some cases, rebuild the experience they offer consumers. But who is today’s Canadian consumer? Where are they choosing to engage with brands? And what are they seeking to receive through that engagement? To answer these questions, and more, Retail Insider the magazine, in partnership with Snap Inc. Canada, gathered some of the brightest industry leaders together for the first of a series of ‘Retail Executive Roundtable’ discussions appearing within the publication.
Moderated by Snap Inc. Canada’s Retail Lead, Matt Bolivar, the dynamic conversation focused on the ever-evolving needs of the Canadian consumer and the strategies and initiatives that brands are developing in order to satisfy and exceed them. And, sharing forward-thinking and thought-provoking insights was a stellar list of participants which included Scott Arsenault, CEO, Ren’s Pets; Drew Green, CEO and President, Indochino; Meghan Roach, Chief Operating Officer, Roots; Rohit Thosar, Senior Manager, Digital Performance Marketing, Walmart Canada; Michael Ward, CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA Canada, and Livia Zufferli, Consulting partner, Customer & Marketing, Deloitte Canada. What resulted was a conversation that Craig Patterson, Founder of Retail Insider Media Ltd., referred to as “highly engaging” and “incredibly informative”.
“This was an unbelievably impressive list of participants to involve in the first roundtable of its kind,” he says. “It’s a conversation that we initiated in order to create some amazing content for the first issue of Retail Insider the magazine. We partnered with Snap Inc. Canada in order to help us make this a worthwhile and meaningful endeavour. And, I couldn’t be more pleased with the way everything turned out. Matt, our moderator, was engaging and led the discussion extremely well. And the brands that we were able to involve are some of the leading, most innovative brands, in the country. It’s turned out to be one of many must-read articles within this issue.”
The Canadian consumer
The conversation began with the spotlight cast on today’s consumer, the ways in which they’ve been impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic and how those impacts have influenced changes in their tastes and shopping behaviour. They are changes that are recognized by Drew Green, CEO and President of leading custom apparel retailer Indochino.
“The last couple of years have been incredibly tough for a lot of Canadians, presenting them with quite a bit of change to work through,” he admits. “As a result, we’ve noticed a significant change in the ways the consumer is interacting with our brand. There’s been a massive shift toward online. But the Canadian consumer still loves retail. They’re looking for an experience and want to have fun again. And they’re willing to pay for excellent experiences.”
Rohit Thosar agrees with Green’s sentiments, expressing excitement concerning opportunities around meeting the evolving needs of an experience-seeking Canadian consumer. However, he admits that availability of product has become a critical consideration of many consumers when shopping in the physical store environment.
“Along with a massive uptick in online consumer activity, shopping behaviour in-store has also been impacted by factors like supply chain disruptions,” he points out. “Today, it seems that there are three cohorts of Canadian consumers: the loyalist who will shop with their favourite brand no matter what; those who will explore substitute brands if products they are looking for are not available; and consumers who don’t want to spend time exploring substitutions and will leave for a competitor if they don’t find what they’re looking for.”
Expanding retail ecosystem
The focus of the conversation then shifted to the expanding retail ecosystem and the pivots that the digitization of the world around us has precipitated by businesses everywhere. Naturally, insights around growing ecommerce sales were shared and the required considerations that needed to be made in order to effectively respond to the sudden spike in online activity. Michael Ward, CEO and Chief Sustainability Officer at IKEA Canada, describes the transition and the opportunity that’s been presented to the brand.
“We went from having single-digit online sales to 30 per cent overnight as a result of the pandemic,” he says. “The fundamental work for us initially was in designing and executing a fulfillment network that would allow us to serve that increased volume and to continue growing in all the different channels. We also needed to build the digital infrastructure that would enable this shift. In addition, we wanted to make sure that we focused more on making the IKEA brand more accessible and our experience more convenient to meet the evolving needs of the consumer.”
Though the increase in sales may not have been as dramatic for Ren’s Pets, the company’s CEO, Scott Arsenault, acknowledges the shift, suggesting that it helped the brand sharpen its focus on its core customer.
“Ecommerce was not new to Ren’s Pets,” he points out. “But, when you’re looking at servicing the customer online, continuous improvement is a must in order to satisfy their evolving needs. With respect to email communication with consumers, we’ve put a lot of focus into providing something of greater substance and relevance to the consumer through increased personalization. In addition, we’ve spent time throughout the pandemic identifying our VIP customers and treating them as such with special rewards and offers.”
The group also spent some time examining the growing multitude of channels through which consumers can interact and engage with brands and where and how they are most effectively reached. Despite the number of channels available, however, Livia Zufferli, Consulting partner, Customer & Marketing at Deloitte Canada, says that any engagement with consumers should be driven by an understanding of them.
“Over the last few years in particular, there’s been a shift in Canadian media dollars toward digital channels,” she says. “However, it’s critical for Canadian retailers to consider their brands and leverage the insights of their current and desired customers in order to understand where to place their media and how to position their messages and content. A channel mix and plan should be developed based on knowing the audience and possessing an awareness of their lifestyle needs.”
Rise of augmented reality
After dissecting the Canadian consumer and the vast retail ecosystem that they can traverse while on their shopping journey, the panel of leaders offered insights concerning the technologies that are being leveraged in order to support their experience. Meghan Roach, Roots’ Chief Operating Officer, says that while there are, of course, numerous technologies being used and explored to enhance customer service and engagement, she believes that augmented reality is one that presents brands with seemingly boundless opportunity.
“Augmented reality will soon start to play an important role in helping certain brands enhance the service and experience that they provide for consumers,” she asserts. “Importantly, however, its use has to link seamlessly with our physical stores as well as our ecommerce platform and digital channels. It can help brands offer an experiential layer and aid consumers in virtually trying on products. There are a lot of potential applications that will continue to become more relevant as we move forward.”
These insights are but a taste of the full breadth of discussion enjoyed by these retail leaders during this dynamic roundtable. Retail Insider the magazine would like to thank its sponsor partner, Snap Inc. Canada for its support and contribution, Matt Bolivar for moderating the event and all of the participants for their tremendous insights.
For the full Retail Executive Roundtable conversation, we urge readers to visit Retail Insider the magazine.