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On the ground at the Zellers opening: Is it worth your money?

Click to play video: 'Zellers makes comeback in Calgary'
Zellers makes comeback in Calgary
Zellers has made a comeback with a pop-up mini store at Sunridge Mall in Calgary. Michael King has reactions from curious shoppers. – Mar 23, 2023

Zellers is back, Canada!

The retail chain, which mostly disappeared from the Canadian landscape in 2013, reopened its doors in select Ontario and Alberta locations Thursday, with more stores to follow in the coming months.

The nostalgic brand’s comeback takes form in a series of pop-up stores located within existing locations of the Hudson’s Bay Co. – Zellers’ parent company. There’s also a wide-ranging online store selling everything from housewares and apparel to pet gear and kids’ toys.

We attended the opening day of Zellers 2.0 in Calgary’s Sunridge Mall location to check out the deals and see if the store’s offerings live up to the hype.

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Zellers opening at Sunridge Mall in Calgary, Alta. on March 23, 2023. Michelle Butterfield/Global News

Is the lowest price still the law at Zellers? Do the new stores offer anything that sets them apart from other chains? Here’s what we learned.

First impressions

We arrived at the Zellers pop-up a few minutes after its 10 a.m. opening and it was already crowded. Throngs of people were wandering the aisles of the 10,000-square-foot, second-storey shop, and all the signature red hoodies had already been snagged by the first eager shoppers through the doors.

Michelle Butterfield / Global News

Despite only claiming a section of The Bay’s second floor, there’s plenty of stock and selection and it truly feels like a complete store – albeit much smaller than the Zellers we grew up with. We spied clothing for the whole family, lots of gear for pets, kids’ crafts and toys, cookware, appliances, bedding and towels and some very cute and functional home décor and furniture items.

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Michelle Butterfield / Global News

The majority of Zellers’ goods are from a new in-house brand named ANKO, and clearly tap into a very specific design aesthetic. The home décor items feature plenty of pastels and neutrals, light wood and natural materials. Many of the kids’ toys are open-ended wooden toys meant for imagination play. Even the pet items look like they’ve been designed for the most pampered and stylish of animals.

Michelle Butterfield / Global News
Michelle Butterfield / Global News

Canadians left dismayed by the abrupt departure of Target stores will be excited by Zellers – it definitely gives off a Target-meets-Ikea vibe. Much of the selection fits the popular boho-meets-mid-century look that’s become popularized by aspirational lifestyle accounts on social media.

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Michelle Butterfield / Global News

What are the prices like?

Looking around online and in-store, the prices at Zellers feel on-par for the brand. Every item features so-called rounded pricing, meaning you won’t see any priced at $4.99 or $75.25 – everything is rounded to the nearest dollar.

Examples of rounded pricing in Calgary’s Zellers location. Michelle Butterfied / Global News

Speaking to shoppers about the prices, there were mixed reactions.

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“The dollar store has a lot of similar items for cheaper, but maybe the quality is better (at Zellers)? We’ll have to see,” shopper Anna Kirk, who was armed with a basket full of storage solutions for her pantry, told Global News.

“The prices seem maybe a bit higher than Walmart, they feel more like what I pay at Winners. But a lot of it is nicer looking than Walmart, so I’m willing to pay a bit more for that,” said Sam Mirza.

The prices on much of the home decor items in Zellers are similar to what you would find in other discount stores. Michelle Butterfield / Global News

There were no door-crasher specials on opening day but that doesn’t mean there aren’t deals to be found. The bathroom and kitchen items, especially, seem to be good value for tight budgets. The furniture section is quite small and features mostly storage solutions and shelving, but nothing is outrageously priced. If fact, most items are less than $150.

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Does it offer anything different?

The new Zellers is definitely not the Zellers most Canadians will remember. There’s been a lot of thought put into the aesthetic of the in-house brand and the furniture, living and household items definitely feel more curated and modern.

Michelle Butterfield / Global News

And while there’s plenty to pick through in most sections, the men’s and women’s clothing sections are very small and feature only the most basic of clothing – plain T-shirts, pants, sweaters, socks and underwear.

The kids’ clothing selection is just slightly bigger, with lots of printed pyjamas and casual clothing, but babies fare the best in terms of selection, with plenty of adorable outfits, toys and nursery items.

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Michelle Butterfield / Global News
A look inside the Calgary Zellers store.

Website vs. in-store

When comparing Zellers’ e-commerce offerings to its in-store selection, customers will notice a lot of overlap. However, the online store does offer some items that you won’t find in the physical locations, including Zellers’ “Value Packs.”

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Signs placed liberally around the store encourage customers to go online to find more items, so it’s likely if you can’t find something in-store they will have it online. Although we didn’t purchase anything online, the experience is slick and easy to use.

Michelle Butterfield / Global News

Zellers also offers free shipping for orders over $69 ($39 with a Hudson’s Bay Mastercard) and, depending on location, same-day or next-day delivery.

What about the food?

Some of the biggest buzz around Zellers’ return has been about the food. The footprint of the new Zellers stores does not accommodate the return of their nostalgic diners, but several locations feature a food truck that offers some of the old diner’s top menu items.

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The menu is simple and includes five items – a big “Z” burger, a hot chicken sandwich, grilled cheese, chicken fingers and fries with gravy.

Unfortunately, despite the agreeable spring temperatures in Calgary, we didn’t have the patience to stand among the approximately 150 people who had lined up for the food truck on opening day. However, one of the first customers in line, Tim Kowalchuk, assured us that the hot chicken sandwich “tastes exactly like I remember.”

The Zellers Diner team in Calgary prepares for an onslaught of hungry customers. Michelle Butterfield / Global News

Shop it or skip it?

Whether Zellers has what it takes to stage a successful comeback is yet to be seen. Many Canadians are feeling the pinch of inflation, looking for ways to stretch their dollars, and discount stores have become increasingly popular in recent years.

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Zellers offers lots of accessories for a home office (L) as well as cozy options to create your own at-home spa. Michelle Butterfield / Global News

Overall, Zellers offers affordable items that don’t sacrifice on style and will surely appeal to a population that is increasingly influenced by the curated and aspirational spaces that come across their social media feeds.

Zellers isn’t offering anything revolutionary in terms of product, quality or price, but many Canadians are sure to appreciate an additional one-stop option for affordable and on-trend home items.

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