May 5, 2014 1:12 pm

Are niche shopping experiences the key to survival in Canada’s crowded market?

As Canada’s luxury retail landscape gets crowded, the focus on niche shopping experiences may just be the key to survival for brick-and-mortar stores.

THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Jesse Johnston

TORONTO – As Canada’s luxury retail landscape continues to get more crowded, the focus on niche shopping experiences may just be the key to survival for brick-and-mortar stores.

On Monday, two luxury brands announced they are entering Canada’s crowded market with stand-alone boutiques in Toronto.

Italian fashion house Versace and famed footwear label Jimmy Choo will open in Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre later this year.

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READ MORE: Versace, Jimmy Choo to launch first stand-alone shops in Canada

Nine West co-founder Vince Camuto will also open his first eponymous stand-alone shop in Canada at Yorkdale.

The announcement comes as more and more foreign companies enter the Canadian market to open brick-and-mortar locations in Canada, including Nordstrom, Target, and J.Crew.

Meanwhile, Sears Canada and Grand & Toy have announced store closures across the country.

READ MORE: Is Sears Canada planning more fire sales?

While some have questioned if the move toward online shopping will do away with the in-store experience in Canada, experts say now is the time for retailers to embrace niche shopping experiences.

“There will always be a place for the experience of shopping, but it has to be specialized,” Queen’s University marketing expert and professor John-Kurt Pliniussen told Global News.

“There has to be niche products, along with niche experiences.”

While online shopping is becoming more and more user-friendly and offers convenience for consumers located in rural areas away from shopping centres, traditional retail locations can offer personal touches and in-store experiences not easily recreated online.

“Customers that are seeking advice-they’re looking for a fashion consultant…they could care less about next-day delivery,” said University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management marketing professor Michael Mulvey.

“What they want is almost a friend who has the fashion know-how.”

Harry Rosen, for example, is one brand that’s trying to offer the niche experience both in-store and online.

On Monday, Larry Rosen – the CEO of luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen – was awarded the 2014 Distinguished Retailer of the Year award for his efforts to continually reinvent the brand and its shopping experience.

“Like the fashion industry, Larry and the Harry Rosen brand are constantly evolving to upgrade and expand the in-store experience and fuse their bricks-and-mortar and online businesses, all while maintaining the legendary service culture their customers have come to rely on,” said Diane J. Brisebois, president of the Retail Council of Canada.

The company has worked to simultaneously keep its online and in person retail experience fresh, offering in-store events like “Straight Shave Saturdays” (where customers can get an old-timey shave from a barber) and “Harry’s Underground Lounge” (a live music event that’s been going since 2011).

Online, in addition to shopping, customers can watch videos that break-down the how to’s of things like tying a Half Windsor knot and buying a suit that fits properly.

With files from The Canadian Press

© Shaw Media, 2014

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