Canada Remains a Global Leader in Attracting International Retailers: Study

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By Craig Patterson

CBRE has released its 11th annual ‘How Global is the Business of Retail?’ report, which identifies the top global markets that international retailers targeted in 2017. Canada, once again, was named as being a significant target for brands opening stores. Toronto in particular was the launch point for many of them, and was the only city in the Americas region to rank in the top 20 cities globally for international brands entering new markets. 

The CBRE report examined 47 countries and 123 global cities to provide a comprehensive view of the markets that international retailers entered for the first time last year. Several categories dominated with coffee and restaurants representing about a quarter of new entrants, as landlords looked to diversify their tenant mix. Mid-range fashion was also described as being a significant driver of growth, representing about 18% of new entrants. About 41% of brands identified targeted more than one city. 

  Above and below Photos: CBRE ‘ How Global is the Business of Retail ?’ 2018 report

Above and below Photos: CBRE ‘How Global is the Business of Retail?’ 2018 report

Retailers based in the United States were the most active in their expansion in 2017, as has been the case for the past several years. CBRE says this is due to their maturity and their need to cross borders in order to gain market share, with US retailers targeting 42 foreign markets in 2017 with significant activity in the Middle East and Japan. As well, Luxury brands from France and Italy have also been actively expanding their international networks, and these were particularly active in Canada in 2017. 

Toronto saw 40 new brands open stores in 2017, according to the report, with only six cities in the world surpassing it. Those included Hong Kong (with 86 new international retailers), Dubai (59), Taipei (52), London (49 ), Tokyo (46) and Doha with 43 international retailers having entered the country in 2017. Trailing Toronto were Singapore with 38 retailers, Prague and Shenzhen with 37 retailers, and Moscow with 36. 

Of the 40 new brands that opened in Toronto last year, 14 of then debuted at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, which has been the primary launch point for many brands coming to Canada over the past several years. The study notes several new luxury brands opened at Yorkdale in 2017, including IWC Schaffhausen, Officine Panerai, Vacheron Constantin, Van Cleef & Arpels and Breitling.

 At Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Craig Patterson

At Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Photo: Craig Patterson

As well, the study notes that more than 30% of Toronto’s new entrants opened on high-streets, with half of those being on trendy ‘West Queen West’ as well as on adjacent Ossington Street. Vogue magazine named West Queen West to be the world’s “second-hippest” district in 2014, and the street has since seen new entrants, and there are more on the way.  

The CBRE study states that 2017 was an all-time record for international retailers entering Canada, which echoes our own store count that we did in January when we identified more than 50 international brands that entered Canada last year by opening stores. The CBRE report notes that since 2014, the average number of new retailers in Canada was about 30 each year. 

Vancouver ranked second in Canada in the study, seeing 11 international retailers enter the city in 2017. Several of those brands opened on or adjacent to the Alberni Street ‘Luxury Zone’, which continues to see interest from global retailers seeking space in a market that boasts strong numbers of brand-focused Asian locals and tourists. 

 Photo: Craig patterson

Photo: Craig patterson

 Alberni Street in Vancouver. Photo: Lee Rivett

Alberni Street in Vancouver. Photo: Lee Rivett

Luxury, in fact, represented 34% of new retail entrants to Canada, with most of them hailing from Europe. Following luxury were new coffee and restaurant concepts and eyewear retailers, which each accounted for 12% of all new entrants into Canada last year. 

The study notes that in past years, the majority of international retailers entering Canada were from the United States. The Canadian market has reached a level of saturation in some respects and some US retailers are actually expected to pull out of the market between now and the year 2020. 

Online shopping continues to gain popularity in Canada, notes the study, and it’s estimated that almost 50% of what Canadians purchase online comes from foreign websites. One of the benefits to this is that international retailers are able to study online consumer shopping patterns to determine if Canada is a viable market to open stores. The study says that retailers from Europe and Asia, particularly within the luxury category, see that “there is a viable market for them in Canada, which is backed by strong consumer demand and the potential to spend”.

  UNIQLO AND MUJI at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. PHOTO TAKEN ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2016.

UNIQLO AND MUJI at Yorkdale Shopping Centre. PHOTO TAKEN ON FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2016.

While luxury sales continue to boom in parts of Canada, the study notes that the country’s retail is in a state of transition. There’s now an unprecedented number of fast-fashion and value-priced retailers operating in Canada while at the same time, mid-market retailers (both domestic and foreign) are struggling and in some instances, exiting altogether. The study mentions value-priced retailers such as Miniso having entered Canada last year with plans for as many as 500 stores, as well as the successes of Japanese retailers Muji and Uniqlo, which are expected to expand beyond Toronto and Vancouver over the next 12-18 months. 

The study notes that the Canadian Consumer Confidence Index ended 2017 at its highest level since 2009, and that this was supported by core retail sales growth, which was up 4.8% over the previous year. That represented the highest annual increase in 11 years. As well, Canada is seeing record low unemployment as well as record-setting tourism numbers, with more than 43-million visitors arriving in Toronto alone. 

  Toronto Photo: CBRE ‘ How Global is the Business of Retail ?’ 2018 report

Toronto Photo: CBRE ‘How Global is the Business of Retail?’ 2018 report

As a comparison to our neighbour to the south, the CBRE report notes that New York City attracted 15 global entrants in 2017, followed by Miami (10), Philadelphia (8), San Francisco (7) and San Diego (6). Luxury and mid-range fashion retailers targeted Miami and Philadelphia for expansion by tapping into the markets’ potential and affordability, according to CBRE. New York is also the country’s launch point for emerging retailers — examples include Anita Dongre (Indian bridal dresses), John Paul Ataker (Turkish gowns) and Intimissimi (Italian lingerie), which all opened flagship stores at prime locations in Manhattan and could expand to other US cities.

Canada, and specifically Toronto, has been a signifiant target for international retailers for the past several years. In CBRE’s study last year where it examined 2016 international retailers expanding globally, Toronto ranked ninth globally for cities seeing new retailers. Canada, and specifically Toronto, have scored highly for the past several years, with Vancouver trailing.  

The CBRE study predicts that 2018 will continue to be a strong year for international retailers entering Canada, provided that optimism remains elevated. In January of 2019, Retail Insider will provide its tally of international retailers that entered Canada in 2018 as we’ve done for the past several years. 

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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