Birks Becomes 1st Luxury Retailer in Canada to Accept Bitcoin

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By Craig Patterson

Montreal-based jewellery retailer Birks is now accepting bitcoin at several of its stores as of this month, in a partnership with BitPay. Birks says that it is the first luxury retailer in Canada to accept bitcoin and it could be a smart move, given increased competition in jewellery retail in Canada. 

“It is of great significance to Birks Group to launch BitPay,” said Jean-Christophe Bédos, President and Chief Executive Officer of Birks Group. “As an internationally growing brand, we believe that BitPay will benefit our customers as we look to align ourselves with these innovative capabilities that are on the forefront of technology.”

Birks stores accepting bitcoin include its flagship downtown Montreal store on Phillips Square, the downtown Vancouver flagship at 698 W. Hastings Street, the Toronto Bloor Street flagship at the Manulife Centre (which will soon relocate within the centre) as well as Toronto Birks stores at Yorkdale and CF Fairview Mall, and the downtown Calgary Birks store at the downtown ‘CORE’ shopping centre. Also, Birks’ Brinkhaus store in Calgary now accepts the cryptocurrency, as do the Birks-operated Graff and Patek Philippe boutiques located at 1018 West Georgia Street in Vancouver. 

Yorkdale location. PHOTO: BEN RAHN/A-FRAME

Yorkdale location. PHOTO: BEN RAHN/A-FRAME

Downtown Vancouver Location. PHOTO:    TALIAJEVAN.COM

Downtown Vancouver Location. PHOTO: TALIAJEVAN.COM

BIRKS AT CALGARY'S CORE .  PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON.

BIRKS AT CALGARY'S CORE. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON.

Manulife Centre Location (Toronto).

Manulife Centre Location (Toronto).

Downtown Montreal Location. PHOTO: MAXIME FRECHETTE

Downtown Montreal Location. PHOTO: MAXIME FRECHETTE

“Birks Group has a large number of international shoppers so allowing them to pay in bitcoin makes perfect sense,” said Sonny Singh, Chief Commercial Officer, BitPay. “Accepting bitcoin helps Birks Group to cater to their high-end international clients and get new customers while providing an innovative and safe payment option.”

As Mr. Singh pointed out, Birks is targeting locals as well as international visitors with its stores, and the retailer is expanding its roster of luxury brands in its stores in order to address competition in the industry. 

Birks continues to add new luxury brands to its stores, both within existing multi-brand Birks locations as well as by launching standalone units such as Graff and Patek Philippe in Vancouver. The Vancouver market, which is known to attract high-spending visitors from Asia, is becoming increasingly saturated as conglomerates such as Richemont Group acquire retail space to open new stores for some of its premium jewellery brands. To address the competition as well as to amplify its presence in Vancouver, Birks will introduce Chaumet and Richard Mille shop-in-stores in its 698 W. Hastings flagship next year. 

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PATEK PHILIPPE CONSTRUCTION SIGNAGE in vancouver. PHOTO: LEE RIVETT

PATEK PHILIPPE CONSTRUCTION SIGNAGE in vancouver. PHOTO: LEE RIVETT

GRAFF CONSTRUCTION SIGNAGE in vancouver. PHOTO: LEE RIVETT

GRAFF CONSTRUCTION SIGNAGE in vancouver. PHOTO: LEE RIVETT

Birks will also relocate its Bloor Street store at Toronto’s Manulife Centre to an updated space at the corner of Bay Street, where it will feature street-front entrances for luxury brands Van Cleef & Arpels and Breitling. The Montreal Birks flagship recently underwent an overhaul that resulted in an updated retail space with shop-in-stores for brands such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Rolex, Cartier, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Breitling, Tag Heuer, Chaumet and Messika. 

The Yorkdale Birks became a prototype for future store design when it relocated into new space in October of 2012. The brighter and more casual retail environment was designed to appeal to millennials, as Birks looks to expand its target market, recognizing affluence across the age spectrum. 

Birks also announced in May of this year that it had launched a pilot program to target Chinese visitors to its stores, allowing them to download QR Codes containing Birks promotions to their mobile devices. Birks was the first merchant to join u·plan in both North and South America. 

QR Codes containing Birks promotions

QR Codes containing Birks promotions

Birks faces increased competition from multi-brand retailers operating in Canada. Homegrown Holt Renfrew is expanding its range of jewellery brands in some of its stores, and recently introduced a Boucheron pop-up at its Vancouver location. US brand David Yurman is also expanding its presence at Holt’s with a new boutique set to open at the Bloor Street flagship next year. Saks Fifth Avenue, which entered Canada in 2016, offers a premium selection of jewellery brands on the ground floor of its downtown Toronto flagship. Montreal-based Chateau d’Ivoire is building a new store up the street from an expanding ‘Ogilvy Holt Renfrew’, which is also opening next year. Canada is home to various other jewellery chains such as Peoples, Mappins, Michael Hill, Paris Jewellers and others, all looking to get the attention of an increasingly crowded market. 

Individual luxury jewellery brands are also expanding into Canada — Vancouver’s Alberni Street is becoming something of a ‘jewellery row’ with standalone boutiques for Tiffany & Co., Van Cleef & Arpels, Panerai, Hublot, De Beers, and Jaeger-LeCoultre, and Vacheron Constantine, Montblanc and Cartier will be joining them. Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre also offers a similar mix of retailers that also include Piaget and Canada’s only standalone David Yurman store (at least for now, another is said to be on the way). In Toronto’s Yorkville, Louis Black opened a Richard Mille boutique last year and is now building Canada’s first location for timepiece brand Audemars Piguet. Competition continues online as brands launch Canadian e-commerce sites to further attract consumers while also building brand awareness. 

Henry Birks opened his first jewellery store in the heart of Montreal in 1879. Birks now has an international reach and its collections are available through select Mappin & Webband Goldsmiths locations in the UK, in Mayors stores in the US and at select jewellery retailers across North America. The retailer operates 26 stores under the Birks brand in Canada as well as Brinkhaus in Calgary and Graff and Patek Philippe boutiques in Vancouver. 

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Craig Patterson, now based in Toronto, is the founder and Editor-in-Chief Retail Insider. He's also a retail and real estate consultant, retail tour guide and public speaker. 

Follow him on Twitter @RetailInsider_, LinkedIn at Craig Patterson, or email him at: craig@retail-insider.com.

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