Canada’s retail landscape is shifting with new competitors. (Photo: Shutterstock)

By Robin Copland, Director of Business Development in the SAS Americas Retail Practice

In the third quarter of a fiscal year, retailers have only two things on their minds: the upcoming holiday sales season and planning for next year.  In Q3 2012, Canadian retailers are looking ahead to next year and a retail landscape that’s going to look very different than the one they’ve been part of for the last 10 years.

Just about everything in the sector is pointing to a significant shift in Canada’s retail landscape. New players entering the Canadian market from south of the border including Nordstrom, Target and J. Crew are challenging brick and mortar retailers with innovative marketing strategies; at the same time, e-retailers are trying harder than ever to get customers through checkout without leaving their home.

Not since the mid-90s, when Wal-Mart came to Canada, have northern shoppers had so many new options when they hit the mall. Luckily, there’s a lot retailers can do to compete as technology brings new ways to reach customers wherever they are and get them to stay longer when they walk in your front door (or come to your website).

Here are my predictions for the changes coming to Canada’s retail sector and the technology behind it all:

More rewards

Everybody wins with rewards: retailers gain data that can be used across the organization, and shoppers get free stuff. Depending on which sector you work in, data can be valuable in many different ways, but in retail it helps anticipate who’s going to buy what, how much of something you’ll likely need to have in store and what kinds of people are coming in. Data is useful for everything from merchandising to supply-chain management and with more competition coming from the U.S., Canadian retailers will be offering more rewards programs and collecting more data.

Personalized deals

As we’ve previously written, Canadians expect more personalized deals from companies these days. Since rewards programs, as well as online and check-out surveys all collect demographic, sentiment and other kinds of data, you’re going to see more personalized marketing materials. Retailers are starting to come around to the fact that people buy more when they get deals on items they’re more likely to buy based on past purchases. Flying directly in the face of the old paper flyer mentality of something for everyone, Canadian retailers will be investing in more technology that gets specific items to individual customers.

New kinds of mobile marketing

If there’s a maxim for the digital age, it just might be: “There’s an app for that.” In the world of retail marketing, apps are far more valuable than many people know. Beyond good branding or a tool for engagement, apps provide a steady stream of data about your customers, what they’re browsing and even, where they spend time in your store. Using integrated data analytics from a mobile app can get real-time deals to customers while they’re still in the store. U.S. powerhouse Macy’s has already taken impressive steps in aggressively connecting their customers with mobile devices for an enhanced in-store experience. Of course, to really make the most of these kinds of new mobile and social marketing technologies, you’ll need analytics tools that are fast enough to locate and step through the window of opportunity that opens every time a customer comes into the store.

More integration between online and in-store options

When your online-only competitors sell just about everything and are open 24/7, it’s time to start rethinking the traditional model for in-store sales. As e-retailing continues to grow, there will be less and less of a distinction between shopping in-store and online. Retailers will increasingly find ways to integrate bricks and bytes, as online and in-store experiences come together. With so much already invested in knowing who their customers are online and offering rewards for in-store purchases, these two different ways of shopping will start to come together. Once a customer is in the door, knowing if and what they’ve already browsed online can make a big difference, and vice versa.

Customer-centric retailing has been the name of the game for some time now, but with better rewards programs, personalized deals, apps and integrated concept stores, Canadian consumers will benefit even more as retailers vie to win their business.

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