From toilet paper to electric guitars: How shopping habits of Canadians changed during COVID-19

Click to play video: 'From toilet paper to electric guitars: what Canadians have been buying during the pandemic'
From toilet paper to electric guitars: what Canadians have been buying during the pandemic
The retail industry is seeing some changes in sales now that Canadians are spending more time at home or in the great outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions. Matthew Conrod takes a look at what people are buying during the pandemic. – Sep 16, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit Canada, it seemed like the only products that retailers couldn’t keep on the shelves were cleaning products, toilet paper and bottled water.

With a vaccine to the coronavirus presumably still months away from being available and no end in sight to the pandemic, Canadians have adapted to a new way of life, which is demonstrated by a change in their shopping habits.

While it’s been a challenging year for small businesses and large retailers, one industry that has performed particularly well over the last six months is the musical instrument industry.

With three locations in Calgary, Guitarworks is a one-stop shop for everything you need when it comes to electric and acoustic guitars. Oh, and if you feel like performing a cover of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” they also sell ukuleles.

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When the pandemic forced the stores to shut their doors, they pivoted by making more of their inventory available on their online shop – a decision that proved to be very beneficial for business.

“It exploded after things shut down,” Guitarworks manager Dave Simpson said.

Between March and August, Simpson says the store saw a significant spike in purchases of electric and acoustic guitars, something he attributes to the fact that people were spending more time indoors and may have been looking to pick up a new hobby.

“I think a lot of people, fairly early on, realized they wanted to seize that opportunity to learn something new,” Simpson said. “You can go on Amazon and buy a bunch of puzzles, or you can do something to grow your skill set or that you’ve been putting off for a long time.”

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According to the Retail Council of Canada, the musical instrument industry wasn’t the only benefactor of Canadians being at home more often.

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Senior retail advisor Michael LeBlanc says that the home improvement part of the retail spectrum benefited with many Canadians adopting a “do-it-yourself” mentality, perhaps believing this was safer than inviting someone into their home during a time of physical distancing.

Outside the home, LeBlanc says millions of Canadians also worked on their gardens, with retailers reporting huge gains from their gardening products.

While it’s true that Canadians were at home more often, LeBlanc says this meant that they had more disposable income to spend, as they weren’t vacationing, travelling to work or going out for entertainment.

Items such as bread makers were also hot-ticket items with Canadians sharpening their cooking and baking skills.

It’s likely not a big surprise to learn the alcohol industry also saw an increase in sales during the more strict months of lockdown.

“I talked to alcohol retailers from coast-to-coast and what they’re seeing is more bespoke spirits and bitters being sold,” LeBlanc said. “People are making cocktails at home, when before they used to go out and enjoy one at a bar.”

Canadians have also probably noticed a few new furry, four-legged friends in their neighbourhoods. With pet adoptions rising, pet products were also in demand.

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Retail trends also demonstrate that Canadians understand that they are less likely to contract to COVID-19 while outdoors, which explains the rise in sales of camping equipment, comfortable walking shoes and snowshoes for the colder months ahead.

LeBlanc says that while some shopping trends will persist in a post-COVID world, he expects others — such as cooking and baking — to level off as life slowly returns to normal, whenever that may be.

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