Shopping calendar

As we note the dwindling hours of daylight and start to settle in for the long winter ahead, the shopping calendar alerts retailers to prepare for the most important Christmas shopping season.

The season accounts for approximately 20% of annual retail sales.

Ever since Thanksgiving, stores have been displaying Christmas decorations, along with pervasive background music appropriate for this time of year.

Changes in our retail sector have taken place at a rapid pace. Hudson’s Bay seems to be waking up from a many decades-long slumber. It recently acquired an upscale U.S. store, Saks Fifth Avenue. Too, Richard Baker, a property mogul who already controls Hudson’s Bay, is planning to open more stores in Canada.

Yet, beginning in the 1960s, department stores started to falter. Shopping there was frustrating with a scarcity of sales personnel to provide any assistance. Specialized retailers sprang up in this era, selling items such as hats and gloves.

New outlets in shopping malls became common in areas with high pedestrian traffic, such as the Eaton Center in Toronto; they featured high-tech equipment or computer or camera accessories. Soon the one-category store started, like toy stores. After hectic openings and initial sales, they failed. Meanwhile online retailers, who hurt the established retailers, experienced a major surge.

Given these changes, what will happen to department stores? All but forgotten is their history. Early in the 20th century it was recognized that by putting all kinds of merchandise under one roof, a big part of retailers’ dollars could be captured.

Stores such as Eaton, Simsons and Morgan and Ogilvy in Montreal thrived. Fierce competition, lack of modern inventory, and dreadful service proved too much for many of these stores.

However, nowadays, rather than giving up, the more entrepreneurial department stores are staging a major comeback. The Bay is utilizing its U.S. counterpart to bring stylish, imported merchandise. When there is a lack of inventory to reflect a costumer’s wishes, shoppers are being accommodated by sales personnel who check online to see if a specific item is available elsewhere.

Sales people are being trained to recognize a good costumer, who then maybe entitled to free alterations or expedited delivery. Frequent, new bargains lure costumers to buy a little more. Posters abound with notices that additional sales personnel are needed and will be hired. Improved lightning and décor now add to the shopping experience.

After a long hiatus, department stores once again are coming to the forefront of retailers. That will be a boon all along the line for our economy.


Bruce Whitestone