Local retail locations like Uptown reported a strong Christmas season, but changes are looming. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich retailers say holiday season was strong

No figures are available yet, but anecdotal evidence points to a strong Christmas season for local retailers. But challenges loom beyond the immediate hustle and bustle of the season.

Kristy Lowes, marketing director for Uptown, described the 2017 Christmas retail season as “very good” with the proviso that statistics will not be available until the new year. The season started with Black Friday, then slowed down in the week after Black Friday, before picking up again as Christmas approached, she said.

“For us, it was definitely busy,” said Jennifer Voltolina, who currently manages Uptown’s North Face retail outline, the only of its kind on Vancouver Island.

For the outlet, it was the first Christmas season. While not as established as the outlets in Vancouver, the location drew a steady stream of customers, said Voltolina, who has been in the retail business for 20 years.

Looking at the larger picture, David Ian Gray, a retail consultant, said anecdotal evidence points towards a “mixed” season overall that actually speaks to large uncertainties in the Canadian retail industry as it grapples with pending cultural, economic and technological changes.

As various reviews have pointed out, 2017 will go down in retail history as the year in which Sears Canada collapsed, leaving behind a giant hole in the Canadian retail landscape that has also impacted the Greater Victoria region.

The iconic chain, deeply woven into Canadian history and culture, had already gone through various restructurings prior to its collapse, and the demise of Sears’ Hillside location on the border between Victoria and Saanich caused the loss of 110 jobs. Opened in 1969, it was the last remaining Sears location in Greater Victoria.

Gray said a loss of this sort can have serious knock-on effects for retailers in malls and the larger communal and commercial web in which they exist.

He also foresees larger cultural changes, as the days of large malls relying on vehicle traffic might be coming to end. People are increasingly less willingly to drive great distances to shop, he said.

This change is happening against the continued rise of online shopping. One survey heading into the Christmas season predicted that 65 per cent of Canadians would be shopping online for gifts this year – up from 55 per cent who said they would be shopping online in 2016.

Perhaps the most obvious proof of this development appears in the number of actual parcels that Canada Post or private carriers have delivered over Christmas. While final figures will not be available for a few weeks, Canada Post announced earlier that it was expecting a record year for deliveries thanks to a 20 per cent increase. By the third week of December, Canada Post had delivered 65 million parcels for the year.

Gray acknowledged the growing importance of online retailing. Buyers now increasingly use computers to compare and contrast between products, thereby undermining traditional window shopping, he said. But he also cautioned against high expectations and fanciful predictions of drones delivering parcels. Some reports point to logistical difficulties over this Christmas season, he said. He also noted the bulk of actual sales both in numbers and dollar values take place in physical stores.

Voltolina speaks to this point. Customers want the physical experience, she said. “They want to look. They want to touch.”

Overall, Gray finds that retail is changing very quickly these days. The predictability of the past is gone. Business models are evolving, and retailers should not hitch their businesses to any specific technology, in light of variability, he said. Retailers should remain flexible, he said. They should also stay abreast of larger economic changes, since many Canadian retail outlets house American companies, he said. He also pointed that the economic climate might not be as strong as it appears.

Gray, a West-Coast based consultant familiar with Uptown, said outlets like it have a chance, if they remain adaptive.

“Uptown is a pretty good concept,” he said. “They have some good tenants. For the moment, they are doing well.”

Just Posted

Challengers topple incumbents in several South Island races

2018 civic election ushers in new faces across the CRD

Victoria and Saanich voters elect to move ahead with amalgamation talks

Victoria and Saanich voters have chosen to move ahead with exploring amalgamation… Continue reading

Prank pizzas delivered to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ campaign celebration

The fake orders happened throughout Helps’ campaign

VIDEO: Tent city moves to Woodwynn Farm, arrests made

The group is asking the government to provide housing for 60 tent city members

Cougar spotted Saturday morning in Saanich

Police found paw prints consistent with cougars in the area

WATCH: Twelve Angry Jurors puts a new spin on an old tale

Canadian College of Performing Arts opens season with reworked version of Reginald Rose teleplay

Crime Stoppers most wanted for Greater Victoria for Oct. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Do you support amalgamation for communities in the Capital Region?

Residents in Victoria and Saanich will be voting on Oct. 20 on… Continue reading

2018 municipal election: Few surprises on Vancouver Island

16 incumbent mayors will continue in their positions for four more years

MLA to become Nanaimo’s next mayor, could weaken NDP’s grasp on power

Leonard Krog’s win will trigger a byelection when he gives up his provincial seat

Horvat nets OT winner as Canucks beat Bruins 2-1

Young Vancouver star had spirited scrap earlier in contest

Team Canada gold medal winners for first time in world curling championship

Team Canada earned gold in Kelowna at the 2018 Winn Rentals World Mixed Curling Championship

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

More pot stores expected in B.C. in coming ‘weeks and months’: attorney general

Attorney General David Eby and Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth visited the new BC Cannabis Store in the province’s Interior

Most Read