Canadians like homegrown retailers, but in-store experience will keep them coming back

Nearly two-thirds of Canadians (63%) believe it’s important to purchase from a Canadian retailer, but sub-par retail experiences could prove costly, according to a new survey by Mindshare Canada.

According to Mindshare’s chief strategy officer, Sarah Thompson, the 1,000-person survey reveals that Canadians are increasingly “on a quest for satisfaction” that goes beyond simply knowing their dollars are being well spent. They want to know they are being treated fairly, and that they are getting enough information to support their purchase and understanding of a product.

Thompson shared some of the other key findings for Canadian retailers with The Message:

The in-store experience is an extension of the brand: Thompson says that many retailers fail to recognize how the in-store experience can shape their perception of the brand. “It’s shaped as a way to sell you stuff, not have an in-store experience,” she said. But some brands are coming to realize that a well-designed and curated brick-and-mortar location can amplify their brand attributes. The online beauty brand Glossier, for example, recently opened its first flagship store in New York. The store’s interior is a physical representation of the millennial-focused brand, from what Business Insider describes as “flowers and over-the-top displays” and employees clad in “bubblegum pink” jumpsuits, to products displayed on communal tables rather than shelves. “This is what retailers need to start considering,” said Thompson. “The marketing of the in-store retail environment needs to be more than ‘We created a nice mural where people can take pictures and post them on Instagram.'”

Tactile is tops among in-store shoppers: Asked why they prefer to shop in-store versus online, nearly half (46%) of people surveyed by Mindshare said the ability to touch a product they’re interested in is “extremely important,” while 42% cited the ability to immediately purchase a product. Convenience is the leading driver for people who prefer to shop online, with 44% ranking it as “extremely important,” followed by more variety (40%).

Retailers in the middle are challenged: The need for strong in-store experiences could prove a significant challenge for the type of “low-cost, low-value” providers who occupy retail’s middle ground, said Thompson. “They can’t make the investment in changing their model, and they can’t cut their costs, so they’re kind of stuck [trying] to overhaul the experience and making themselves relevant in the physical space to the changing shopping behaviour of Canadians.”

Awareness isn’t the problem: Most Canadians are aware of the country’s major retailers, but getting onto consumers’ consideration list requires them to deliver on a variety of factors—from value and competitive pricing to the shopping experience. Was the store well merchandised, were returns easy, etc. “I probably couldn’t name a retailer you’re not aware of,” said Thompson. “But [getting consideration] is a loyalty play as much as it is about a new shopping moment.”

Online is not the enemy: Many traditional retailers still seem wary that their online operations will undercut their physical locations. Yet retail brands like Warby Parker—which started online and is now headed toward 100 stores—have found success by treating their physical and online operations as one. “It all contributes to the same pool, and that’s an important thing to consider,” said Thompson.

David Brown