July 18, 2019 11:54 am
Updated: July 18, 2019 11:55 am

‘Retail is under attack’: Technology means change for Winnipeg stores

A closed sign on a storefront.

Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press/File
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When was the last time you bought something from a brick-and-mortar store? What about online?

If you’re like many Canadians, you might be finding yourself making purchases from a screen more often than visiting physical retailers.

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That trend, according to a local developer, means Winnipeg’s retailers need to find new ways to convince customers to show up in the flesh.

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“Winnipeg was a little late to the party, but we’ve caught up,” Sandy Shindleman, president of commercial real estate firm Shindico, told 680 CJOB on Wednesday.

“I watched, out of my window, the neighbouring building receive a lot of Amazon packages today.

“Retail is under attack. The cost of operating retail in Winnipeg are very high. The retail properties tend to be over-assessed, the cash flow of course is not certain.”

Shindleman said it’s incumbent upon retailers to catch their customers’ imaginations. He said he’s been to stores a number of times and been encouraged by staff to look for a particular item online.

“(Winnipeggers) want to support the jobs, and I think that’s fabulous, but if you go three times into a location and they encourage you to look at their website … maybe you’ll look at the website next time.”

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If you’re noticing a lot of upgrades and redesigns to local strip malls and other retailers, you’re not alone. Shindleman said many retailers find that when they do a refresh, it causes a spike in sales.

“They want to make a more attractive point of sale, a more attractive facade.

“There isn’t a lot of opportunities for new retail, so people who have existing retail are investing in their existing premises.”

The developer said other cities like Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa are experiencing a boom in urban retail because the demand is there, unlike in downtown Winnipeg – and that the best way City Hall can help is by staying out of the way.

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Michael LeBlanc, senior retail advisor for the Retail Council of Canada, said the ongoing changes mark a fascinating time in retail and food services.

“There’s no question e-commerce is transforming retail,” he said. “You see that in small and large ways every single day.

“There’s all kinds of technology platforms that have kind of leveled the playing field so small businesses, Main Street businesses can compete with major businesses, so everyone has a chance in the game – both from what we call the last mile, which is to your doorstep, and also from a technology perspective.”

Le Blanc said the recent emphasis on home delivery other than brick-and-mortar shopping – and the entry of new services like SkipTheDishes for restaurants – is an example of the ‘democratization’ of product delivery.

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“We’re living at this intersection of technology, the gig economy, urban density… and in some ways, we’re back to the future,” he said.

“Catalogue retail had home delivery baked in for many years, milk delivered to the doorstep, and of course, restaurants have been delivering for a long time.”

Winnipeg business owner Christian Meko told 680 CJOB the challenge for retailers is to get the word out on all possible platforms.

“You have to get everywhere if you want people to know you,” said Meko, whose Aschenti Cocoa makes chocolate bars from scratch using cocoa beans from his home farm in Cameroon.

“You have to market your products everywhere online, with retailers … we even do farmers’ markets to try to get more people.

“Things are changing every time, and you have to come out with something different, something new.”

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