Personal meets digital at new Shoes.com store

One of North America’s major online footwear retailers is making the transition from e-commerce to bricks and mortar, with a new Toronto store that combines elements of online shopping and in-store browsing for a modern retail experience.

Shoes.com, which offers a dizzying selection of more than 500 brands through its websites Shoes.com, ShoeMe.ca and OnlineShoes.com, opened its first physical store on Queen Street West this week.

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New Shoes.com store in Toronto, located at 356 Queen Street West.

The move is, in part, a strategy to cater to shoppers who aren’t comfortable shopping online. A large proportion of consumers likely fall into that category when it comes to shopping for shoes, given that sizes tend to vary slightly between brands, and the opportunity to try them on can help shoppers avoid ending up with a pair that doesn’t fit quite right.

By incorporating online shopping stations right into the store, Shoes.com hopes to make new customers more comfortable with the online shopping experience.

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Shoeme.ca website homepage.

The establishment of a physical retail presence also allows the company to develop a stronger connection with its existing customers, according to Jonathan Zhu, assistant store manager, who offered tours of the store during a media event this week.

“Being a really stable online retail space, we want to make that personal connection. We want our customers to see the people behind the shoes and behind the website, and this is our opportunity to do that,” Zhu says. “To be a part of the community is really important to us.”

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Interior of the new Toronto store.

The store is divided into three main sections:

1. the “Home Room”, at the front of the store, aims to reflect the home page of the Shoes.com website, showcasing a variety of different popular styles and brands;

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The Home Room.

2. the “Dressing Room”, in the middle of the store, is set up as a boutique that will put a spotlight on five to six specific brands;

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Maians shoes on display in the Dressing Room.

3. the “Editor’s Room”, at the back of the store, aims to reflect the local community, showcasing merchandise from various designers and entrepreneurs from the city in which the store is located.

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The Editor’s Room.

“More so than a corporate space, you’ll get the feeling of a boutique from us, and the fact that we’re really in tune with our community,” Zhu says.

Each store that the company opens will be unique, with the Editor’s Room being the key differentiating component. In the new Toronto store, for instance, the Editor’s Room will initially feature Toronto-based hat designer Jason Mitchell and his brand Coup de Tete, as well as Armed Jewelry, a local brand founded by designer Desiree Girlato.

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Armed Jewelry on display in the Editor’s Room at the Toronto store.

“Every one of our stores is going to have a different vibe,” Zhu says. “There’s going to be different personalities from the community incorporated into the stores.”

The online shopping terminals will be available for customers to browse and order items not available in store, using the company’s new artificial intelligence-powered shopping tool, called Smart Shopper. The tool helps customers narrow down their search by learning their style preferences and displaying the merchandise that is most relevant to each individual.

Shoes.com plans to open a second store in Vancouver in September, with other locations likely to follow.

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Links of London lands in Toronto

Trendy jewellery chain Links of London is opening its first Canadian standalone boutique this week in the Toronto Eaton Centre.

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The British jeweler, which is owned by global fashion powerhouse Folli Follie Group, has more than 100 retail locations around the world. In the Canadian market, it operates a handful of kiosks inside Holt Renfrew stores, as well as one that recently opened in Montreal’s downtown luxury department store Ogilvy.

Although Links of London started out specializing in cufflinks in 1990, it now offers jewellery of all kinds – including watches – and is perhaps best known for its collection of so-called ‘Sweetie’ charm bracelets.

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Sweetie Charm Bracelet, $295.

Links of London has also become affiliated with Britain’s world-famous Wimbledon tennis tournament, offering a collection of playful and sporty jewellery dedicated to the annual event.

The new store, located next to Michael Kors on the third floor of the Toronto Eaton Centre, opens on June 16th.

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A second standalone Canadian Links of London store is set to open soon at Sherway Gardens. Although the jeweller has already been operating a kiosk in Sherway’s Holt Renfrew location, that store is preparing to shut its doors to make way for a new, larger Holt Renfrew location at Square One Shopping Centre.

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Reiss reaches overseas

U.K.-based fashion brand Reiss has opened its second Toronto location at Sherway Gardens, and a recent ownership change for the chain suggests Canadians could soon see more Reiss stores across the country.

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Reiss store at the Toronto Eaton Centre.

The upscale men’s and women’s clothing retailer, known for being a favourite brand of the Dutchess of Cambridge, made its Canadian debut in March with the opening of a store in the Toronto Eaton Centre.

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The chain, founded by David Reiss in 1971, now has more than 160 locations in 15 countries.

In April, Reiss Holdings – the company that owns the retail chain – entered an agreement to sell a majority stake in the company to New York-based global private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC.

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That transaction positions Reiss for further international growth, particularly in North America, Asia and Australia, with a goal of building Reiss “into a truly global fashion brand,” David Reiss said in a statement about the deal.

That could mean the new Toronto stores are just the beginning of a broader Canadian presence for the fashion brand.

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Reiss is celebrating the launch of the new Sherway Gardens store with an opening party on Thursday, May 12, co-hosted by The Kit, complete with treats and drinks, and a chance to win a $1,500 Reiss wardrobe.

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An expanded retail footprint for essence

European makeup brand essence has gained more shelf space in the Canadian retail market, thanks to a recent mega retail merger.

essence, which is owned by German cosmetics company Cosnova GmbH, is known for fun and affordable makeup products, with an average retail price of just $3.69.

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The brand made its Canadian debut in 2012, under an exclusive distribution partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart. With the 2014 acquisition of Shoppers having brought the drug store chain under the ownership of Loblaw Companies Ltd., essence has now gained a massive new distribution network.

In addition to its presence within Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix stores, essence is gaining real estate this spring within certain Loblaws grocery stores.

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Under the new distribution arrangement, designated Loblaws stores will carry twice as many essence products compared with the amount of essence merchandise available at Shoppers Drug Mart. Loblaws stores will also carry certain exclusive essence products that are not available anywhere else in the Canadian market.

The essence brand seems a good fit for Loblaws, where its in-house fashion and cosmetics brand, Joe Fresh, shares a similar philosophy of trendy items for affordable prices.

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At a downtown Toronto event in late February, essence showcased its spring makeup collection, including certain Loblaws exclusives. The new collection features plenty of pastels and bright spring colours that are sure to attract shoppers as the products make their debut on the shelves of their new retail partner.

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Difficulties at Danier

The intense competitive pressures that have wreaked havoc on Canadian retailers in the past few years are showing no signs of slowing down.

The latest victim is Toronto-based Danier Leather Inc., a 44-year old leather-goods retailer that filed for creditor protection in early February. The chain operates more than 80 stores, all of which face the prospect of shutting down unless the company can find a buyer or investor to reverse its grim financial situation.

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The potential closure would leave vacancies in most major GTA shopping centres, including the Toronto Eaton Centre, Sherway Gardens, Square One, Fairview Mall and Scarborough Town Centre, among others.

Danier has carved out a reputation as a destination for leather goods. The brand has certainly had success within that niche, with a wide range of leather outerwear and bags, along with complementary accessories such as scarves, toques and gloves.

As frigid Canadian winters have driven consumers towards parkas and down-filled coats warm enough to get them through days when the temperature struggles to surpass -20 degrees, however, Danier has faced increasing competition from brands such as Canada Goose.

Even if the bulk of Danier’s merchandise is designed for times of year when a lighter jacket is appropriate, consumers who are shelling out hundreds of dollars on winter parkas have likely begun to think twice about spending extra cash on a new spring jacket.

It remains to be seen whether this niche Canadian chain will be rescued, or suffer the same fate as such brands as Mexx Canada and Parasuco Retail Inc.

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Retailer relaunched

A west-end retail destination for trend-setters has unveiled an updated brand, a fresh feel, and a new suite of designer brands.

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Riant Boutique, located around the corner from the Thompson Hotel in the trendy King Street West area, has re-launched its identity.

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The women’s fashion retailer offers a mix of casual and dressy fashions, including accessories and outerwear. The relaunch was an opportunity for the boutique to introduce some new labels into the mix and re-energize the brand.

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The new and improved boutique is bright, spacious and welcoming. Its new roster of designers includes A.L.C., Alice and Olivia, Mackage, Ted Baker, Vince, and many more coveted labels.

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The upscale merchandise features up-to-date trends, including furs and warm winter coats that are sure to appeal to local fashionistas who are buckling down for another cold winter.

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Side note for readers: I thought the ‘relaunch’ theme of this post was appropriate given the recent hiatus of Retail Realm. Although other endeavours have kept me busy in recent months, I’m still committed to covering Toronto vibrant retail scene! Stay tuned for more.

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Furniture and photography

Furniture retailer Leon’s will be opening the doors of its downtown Toronto location to photographers and art fans this weekend, as it hosts a photography exhibit entitled Toronto CLICKS.

The pop-up gallery, presented by online photography community Streets of Toronto, takes over the Leon’s at the Roundhouse store near the Steamwhistle Brewery on Saturday, Oct. 18th.

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Streets of Toronto is an online photography community with more than 25,000 followers. Contributors use the hashtag #StreetsOfToronto on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to showcase urban photography of landscapes, architecture and public spaces across the city.

Saturday’s exhibit will showcase the work of 50 Toronto photographers, and will mark the launch of StreetsOfToronto.com – the official website for the organization’s upcoming digital and print magazine, as well as a branded line of merchandise.

The 40,000 square-foot furniture store boasts a modern, loft-like atmosphere that’s certainly appropriate for this kind of artistic event.

The exhibit will be open to the public from 1 pm to 5 pm on Saturday. Visitors will be able to purchase photographs, and can enjoy light refreshments as they take in compelling images of this dynamic city.

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