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12 weeks of Christmas: Retailers speed up holiday plans amid coronavirus pandemic

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Retailers are ramping up plans for a transformed Christmas shopping season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with strategies to draw buyers early, step up their e-commerce game and convince consumers to buy gifts for far-flung friends and family.

Indigo Books & Music Inc. is already rolling out cards and advent calendars, while Mountain Equipment Co-op has seen a sales surge for winter products such as snowsuits, which it aims to load onto shelves ahead of schedule alongside snowshoes and skis to spread out the holiday rush.

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Peter Simons, CEO of fashion retailer Simons, says the company is investing millions in temporary shipping and packing stations to meet the expected spike in demand for online orders, though he questions whether the 180-year-old department store can reach previous revenue peaks for the season, which typically accounts for 40 per cent of annual sales.

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London Drugs is also bulking up its physical presence, with plans to construct queue shelters at more than half of its 82 stores, including metal-roofed structures bolted to Prairie buildings to shield customers from wind and snow.

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Michael LeBlanc, a senior adviser at the Retail Council of Canada, says that consumers may have more spending money on hand after having shelled out less on vacations, commutes and lunchtime cappuccinos.

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But a holiday season that features fewer store visits and gatherings of friends and family may see a corresponding decrease in impulse buys and lavish gift giving, which means retailers aren’t jolly just yet.