Retail Before, During & After COVID-19 in Canada: An Analysis

Retail specialist Bruce Winder has seen rapid change in the industry during his 30-year career but the pace of change in recent years has been accelerating.

And in his new book, RETAIL Before, During & After COVID-19, Winder outlines the even faster acceleration the retail industry will experience in the coming years.

Winder, a retail analyst, consultant and President of Bruce Winder Retail, said he decided to write the book because he felt there was a story to tell.

“I’ve seen retail change so much in the last five years. I think the last five years have changed more than the previous 20 really in terms of just the number of pieces, the number of components, that are moving. The changes on the suppliers’ side, the retail side, the real estate side. The amount of change was huge,” said Winder.

“I thought I’d like to explore that and  come up with my own perspective on where retail’s at and where I think it’s going to go. I think this book is a great source of knowledge for anyone in the retail industry or adjacent to it.”

“You’re going to continue to see the same pace of change if not a greater pace of change now.”

Winder has worked about 22 years in “big” retail at  major chains such as Canadian Tire, HBC in the Zellers division, and Sears Canada. He also did a stint at Airmiles. He’s worked on the supplier side as well for companies like Mattel, Dorel, and many others. He’s been a consultant and teaches business at two private Toronto and Mississauga colleges.

The book, in Kindle and paperback format, is available on Amazon and Winder is donating five percent of his proceeds to mental health programs in the U.S. and Canada.

The book includes:

  • Comprehensive analysis and categorization of over 70 key US and Canadian retailers before the COVID-19 crisis emerged;
  • His top 80 retail trends as of February 2020 – from the perspective of customers, employees, suppliers, managers, investors and retailers as well as a review on technology;
  • Detailed account of how COVID-19 impacted the US and Canadian retail industries during the pandemic;
  • Forecast on the short term, medium term and long term impact the pandemic will have on retail in the future; and
  • Over 800 references from leading media outlets over the last two years.

“One of the things I see is a further disparity in income and wealth. I see the folks at the top of the pyramid getting richer and I see folks in the middle continuing to be squeezed. I see people  at the bottom becoming even more economically challenged. ” said Winder

He said there will be continued acceleration of online sales. It might not be at the same rate as during the heat of the pandemic but there will be a marked increase from before the pandemic to after. Consumers have gotten used to it. They enjoy the convenience.

“You’re also going to see a reduction in brick and mortar stores after the pandemic as customers shop online more,” added Winder.

Many suppliers will go bankrupt as well but the remaining brands will sell direct more. “You’re going to see an acceleration of suppliers selling direct. That was already a trend-direct to consumer or DTC. But you’re going to see an acceleration of that too.”

For the next little while, said Winder, there will be a significant number of retailer bankruptcies as a result of the crisis.

“It’s just too long a time to go without operating at full capacity, not generating as much cash as before the virus struck. If you’re  an essential food retailer, essential products retailer, you’re having a great year. You’re having the best year ever,” he said. “But if you’re a non-essential retailer that sells  footwear or  apparel or you’re a department store, you’re going to have a really hard time and a lot of those folks are going to go bankrupt.”

Winder said more people will join the Shopify’s of the world and set up their own storefronts from home. Many new and different businesses will open up as well. “Retailers, suppliers, and consumers will innovate to survive.”

But Winder said he also sees the consumer being more thrifty too with a flight to value and the opening of more used product stores. “Look for a greater mix of used clothing at retailers. Walmart has already partnered with thredUP.”

“If you look at investors, you’re going to see a continued polarization toward the FAANG stocks — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. You’re seeing those top folks going to control even more of the retail industry. Amazon has grown even stronger as a result of this,” he said. “Canada’s own Shopify will benefit significantly from this new abnormal.”

“You’re going to see governments get a little bit more involved in the short term. Government is something that has been a bit of a dirty word for a lot of business people. But governments have played a new role in the future of retail in terms of acting as a partner to try and help get the economy up and running again” said Winder.

“The other part is technology. Technology is going to accelerate and not just online. Online is the obvious one but you’re going to have more augmented reality as folks use apps to try and see what a couch would look like in their house or how they look trying on garments. The use of technology is going to increase significantly . . . You’re going to see a growth in technology to aid in touchless retail. Cashierless stores, apps, facial recognition, AI, and more.”

“From a real estate perspective, There’s going to be a huge demand for urban online warehouses because everybody’s going to be shopping online more. “There’s going to be a reckoning for malls. Tier one malls will eventually do OK. Tier three malls will close and become mixed-use — some tier two as well.”

“You’re going to see  huge pressure on the delivery infrastructure. You’re going to see growth in delivery apps and consolidation in that industry”.

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 now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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