Veering out of the virtual world

Online marketplace Etsy appears to be branching out of the e-commerce world and making strides into the face-to-face retail space.

Etsy, an online marketplace where consumers can browse and purchase creative items by artists from around the world, has been experimenting with a variety of projects this year that bring merchandise off of the website and into bricks and mortar stores and markets.

Later this month, Etsy will host a cross-country event called Made in Canada, in which pop-up markets will appear across the country. The one-day event, on Sept. 27th, will take place in more than 20 cities across the country, allowing vendors the opportunity to sell their merchandise to shoppers face-to-face.

In Toronto, the event will take over the atrium of the MaRs Centre, showcasing one-of-a-kind goods from 100 local sellers.

The Made in Canada initiative follows #EtsyRoadTrip – a road show in which a 30-foot custom AirStream trailer brought Etsy merchandise to shoppers Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Toronto during the first week of August.

Beyond these pop-up marketplaces, Etsy has established a longer term strategy around the concept of bringing Etsy merchandise into the real world.

The initiative, called Etsy Wholesale, connects the artists and designers within its marketplace with retailers who are interested in carrying their products. The initiative provides artists with a new channel on which to sell their products, and it gives retailers access to unique new items to feature on their shelves.

Earlier this year, the company announced that Indigo Books & Music Inc. has signed on as one of the participating retailers, and Indigo began selling a selection of Etsy merchandise in certain stores, including the Toronto Eaton Centre location.

Indigo Etsy

The steady growth of online shopping shows no signs of slowing down, and most bricks and mortar retailers have responded to that in recent years by establishing comprehensive websites and e-commerce capabilities alongside the physical stores that they operate.

Against that backdrop, it’s interesting to see some retailers moving in the opposite direction by first establishing themselves online, and then shifting into the physical retail space.

It’s a sign that despite the digital times in which we live, innovation in the retail industry is not a one-way street. Although the internet has opened up a variety of new sales options, marketing practices and alternative ways of connecting with consumers, there continue to be opportunities to innovate in the traditional retail world.

Bricks and mortar stores, it turns out, serve an important function that cannot necessarily be fulfilled online.

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The final chapter for a big retail landmark

In an era where a growing number of consumers get their news online and read books on handheld devices, it should be no surprise that books and other paper products are not generating strong sales.

Still, it somehow seems unexpected when a bookstore as notorious as the World’s Biggest Bookstore – a Toronto landmark that’s been around for more than three decades – closes its doors.

BiggestBookstore

Photo courtesy of World’s Biggest Bookstore Facebook Page.

By now, most Torontonians are likely accustomed to seeing ‘Going out of Business Sale’ signs in the windows of neighbourhood bookstores. Back in January, for instance, we learned that Book City’s flagship store in the Annex was shutting down after almost 40 years.

It’s pretty clear what’s driving this trend. As bookstores compete with online retailers like Amazon.com, along with a growing array of tablets and e-readers that enable us to consume books in a compact, portable, paperless fashion, people are simply not going to stores to buy books nearly as often as they did in the past.

Meanwhile, many of the bookstores that are still around are rapidly diversifying their product shelves to give shoppers other reasons to come into their stores, as books do not have the draw they once did.

Shoppers who have visited a Indigo store in the past year or two, for example, could be forgiven for mistaking it for a home décor retailer, given the growing selection of candles, throws and vases in those stores. That strategy appears to be paying off: the company has seen double-digit growth in sales of lifestyle products, toys and other non-book items in recent quarters.

In the case of the World’s Biggest Bookstore, it had certainly seen better days. Last time I stopped by, the store looked dated and run down – especially compared to Indigo’s other stores. In that sense, its looming closure is not too surprising.

world-biggest-bookstore

Still, the closure of this store seems somehow symbolic, reflecting the end of an era in the world of books. The store was more than a bookshop – it was a landmark. Given our rapidly changing world, however, maybe this landmark was simply no longer a relevant one.

The future of the book retailing business does not look particularly promising. But, for now, Toronto shoppers still have various destinations to buy books – even once the city’s biggest book hub has officially closed shop.

The doors will close for the last time tomorrow, on March 30th. So get your final fix before it’s too late.

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Olympic Spirit: In Stores Now

The Olympic Games tend to permeate all aspects of society each time they occur, dominating workplace conversations, media coverage and television airtime for two weeks straight.

This time around, the games also gained a prominent presence in stores and malls, as the retail industry showed its support for the games, and Canada’s athletes in particular.

Whereas we’ve long seen retailers such as Roots and Hudson’s Bay Company embrace the games by providing Team Canada merchandise – including those red mittens that became ubiquitous during the 2010 Vancouver Games – a variety of other retailers got in on the action this year.

Companies such as Sport Chek and Canadian Tire, for example, launched aggressive marketing campaigns demonstrating their support for Team Canada, with floor-to-ceiling advertisements at certain TTC subway stations.

Shopping centres also seemed to get into the Olympic spirit more than ever before. The Toronto Eaton Centre, for example, set up a viewing lounge where people could take a break from shopping to catch up on the latest Olympic action.

Olympic Viewing Lounge at the Toronto Eaton Centre

Olympic Viewing Lounge at the Toronto Eaton Centre

On Family Day, the Eaton Centre showcased the viewing lounge during a special event featuring Jason Burnett, an Olympic silver medalist in trampoline, who took photos with fans and signed autographs. Burnett also made an appearance at Fairview Mall during the long weekend, which had a similar viewing lounge set up for shoppers to enjoy.

It’s a smart strategy from a business perspective, enticing consumers to stick around at the mall longer than they might otherwise in order to see Olympic events they don’t want to miss. The more time shoppers spend at the mall, the more likely they are to make more purchases – even if it’s just a latte to sip on while watching some figure skating or bobsledding.

Support for Team Canada on display at the Toronto Eaton Centre

Support for Team Canada on display at the Toronto Eaton Centre

The Winter Olympics clearly resonate with Canadians, providing an exciting event to rally around during the cold and dark winter months. The games also elicit a strong sense of pride among Canadians, so it’s understandable that retailers would want to find a way of associating themselves with this event.

Although retailers have their business reasons for getting involved, it’s nice to see the industry showing its support. I’m sure the athletes appreciate all the support they can get, and from a fan’s perspective, it’s one more element contributing to the exciting spirit of the games.

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Style Faux Pas strives for stellar service

In a world where personalized customer service is increasingly being squeezed out by online retailers, mobile apps, and perhaps – as we learned this week – even drones, a new Toronto boutique is striving to bring back the customized service that many shoppers still crave.

Style Faux Pas (@stylefauxpas), a new fashion retailer that opened last week on Church Street, north of Queen, claims to be “more than a traditional boutique”.

StyleFauxPas

Launched by Alisha Hanif, an entrepreneur from B.C. with a passion for fashion styling, the shop offers such services as personal shopping and image consulting. Hanif’s goal is to provide a customized fashion experience, helping each client to find her own unique look.

This retail concept – although not at all new – seems strangely refreshing in these digital times.

The shop carries handpicked pieces from such designer clothing brands as Whitney Eve; Love, Zooey; Label + Thread; and Maurie & Eve. It also features accessories from such Canadian designers as Jessica Jensen and Melanie Auld, along with a selection of men’s wear.

StyleFauxPas2

The 600-square-foot boutique is located in a neighbourhood that’s not exactly known for its fashion, but since it’s just a short walk east of the Eaton Centre and the trendy retail strip on Queen Street West, Style Faux Pas will likely have no trouble attracting nearby shoppers.

The boutique is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 6 pm.

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Targeting Toronto tweens

Young fashionistas in Toronto celebrated this weekend, as niche Canadian retailer Triple Flip launched its first location in the city.

Triple Flip, a retailer that specializes in apparel for pre-teen girls, held a grand opening celebration at its new store at Yonge and Eglinton.

Triple Flip's Newmarket store.

Triple Flip’s Newmarket store.

The company, which began as a single store in Calgary, Alberta that was launched by two local moms in 2005, has expanded to include 11 locations across the country, as well as a comprehensive e-commerce website.

Fly Girl Hoodie, $29.95

Fly Girl Hoodie, $29.95

Although the chain already operates two other GTA locations – one in Oakville and one in Newmarket – the new boutique provides a more accessible location for urban families.

Triple Flip aims to offer stylish and comfortable attire for pre-teen girls with active lifestyles. The collections include such items as tops with bold patterns and sassy catch-phrases, multi-coloured skinny jeans, stretchy and colourful active-wear, and fun accessories such as rhinestone-embellished ear muffs and furry pencil cases.

Jazlyn Tee $35.00

Jazlyn Tee $35.00

Given the solid demand for trendy clothes and accessories among 10-to-12-year-olds, Triple Flip will likely have no trouble attracting customers in the Toronto market.

However, this segment of the market can be tough – especially for retailers focused exclusively on this young demographic. La Senza Girl and Jacob Jr., for instance – both of which catered to the pre-teen market – seemed to struggle to establish enough of a core market, and both chains eventually shut down.

Considering the success it’s had so far, however, perhaps Triple Flip has found a formula that works in this competitive market. If the company’s Facebook page is any indication, it certainly appears to have won over the hearts of tweens and moms across the country.

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Shopping around the clock

Busy GTA shoppers now have more time to get their retail fix.

Several Toronto-area shopping centres have recently extended their hours of operation, particularly on weekends, allowing shoppers to keep browsing and buying from their favourite stores well into the evenings.

open-sign

Sherway Gardens and Fairview Mall recently announced that they are now open from 9:30 am to 9 pm on Saturdays, and the Toronto Eaton Centre is open from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm.

And on Sundays – a day when laws used to prohibit retailers from opening at all – the Eaton Centre is now open a full nine hours, from 10 am to 7 pm, while Fairview and Sherway are open from 11 am to 7 pm and 11 am to 6 pm, respectively.

I can still recall when most stores were open a standard five hours on Sundays – noon to 5 pm.

These malls, all owned by The Cadillac Fairview Corp. Ltd., are likely changing their hours in an effort to compete with the growing popularity of e-commerce. Since customers can now do much of their shopping from the comfort of their home or office – anytime that’s convenient for them – they’ve become accustomed to service that caters to their schedule, and not the other way around.

In order to remain relevant in this rapidly changing environment, bricks and mortar retailers must take steps to meet customers’ rapidly evolving expectations, such as staying open longer.

As a former retail worker, however, I feel for the sales associates, store managers and other staff members who are required to work these new hours.

Although some may appreciate the bigger paycheques that come with extra hours on the clock, the job is one that can already be very tiring, involving seemingly endless hours on your feet. Tacking a couple extra hours onto the end of a shift may not seem like a big deal, but after several hours in heels, the minutes tend to crawl by at a snail’s pace.

Clock

And, even though 9 pm may seem like a reasonable time for a store to close its doors, few retail staff members get to leave at that time. Cleaning the store, counting the till and getting things ready for the next day can easily take an hour, and on evenings when new merchandise needs to go out on the floor, workers can be stuck at a store until the early hours of the morning.

After a long week of work, that’s hardly an ideal way to spend a Saturday night.

Since it’s standard for retailers to temporarily extend their hours during the busy Christmas season, it’s possible that these workers could face even longer hours come November and December.

After that, it will be interesting to see whether these retail hubs stick with their new extended hours of operation, or revert to their old ones. If the hours pay off in the form of more sales, shop keepers will likely need to get used to their new schedules.

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Fast fashion meets home décor

Canadians may know Zara best for its clothing, but the retail chain is showing off another one of its specialties: home furnishings.

Zara Home, a sister chain to the international fast-fashion retailer owned by Spain’s Inditex Group, has opened its first GTA store at Yorkdale Shopping Centre.Zara Home Bedding

The store carries such home décor items as rugs, throws, lighting, drapes and bedding, in bright colours, unique textures and trendy patterns designed to spruce up any space.

Similar to the brand’s clothing line, the home furnishing collections include a combination of neutral basics, such as white wooden picture frames and simple glass stemware, and bold statement pieces, along the lines of red patent leather throw cushions, mirrors embellished with third-dimensional silver snakes and skull-shaped candle holders.

Zara Home TableclothAnd, as Zara shoppers would expect, the prices are very reasonable.

Given how eagerly Canadian shoppers embraced the arrival of Zara several years ago, I suspect Zara Home will have no trouble attracting consumers in this country.

With residential construction showing few signs of slowing in Toronto, in particular, the home furnishing market is poised to continue benefitting from plenty of local demand. So, Zara picked a good city for the brand’s new home.

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