No shipping, no problem: Retail expert says brick and mortar retailers are king during holiday season

Strike or no strike, retail expert Brynn Winegard said shoppers flock to the malls in droves this time of year, in large part because they're drawn to the idea of a holiday shopping experience.

Strike or no strike, retail expert Brynn Winegard says most prefer to do their holiday shopping in person

Retailers are gearing up for Black Friday, which begins tomorrow.

For Daniel Phillips, owner of the London-based clothing company Illbury and Goose, the rotating strikes at Canada Post mean doing Black Friday differently this year.

Although the brand's website boasts free shipping within Canada over a certain price threshold, Phillips said even shipping across the province has been a problem lately as packages sit idle at distribution centres for days or even weeks.

That's why Phillips is asking local shoppers to do their holiday buying in-person this year, or, at least, to order online and pick their parcels up at his brick-and-mortar storefront in the Old East Village. 

"I don't think people really mind, I think they're getting a better first-hand approach than sitting behind a computer when it comes to shopping," said Phillips, who said he's already noticed an uptick in foot traffic this year, and plans to extend his store hours in anticipation of a further Black Friday rush. 

Daniel Phillips, the owner of London, Ont. clothing retailer, Illbury and Goose, holds a Black Friday sale every year and says he's hoping shoppers will choose to buy online and pick up their purchases in store. (Mark Tiu/Illbury and Goose)

When it comes to the holiday season, that "first-hand approach" is nothing to scoff at, according to retail expert Brynn Winegard. Strike or no strike, Winegard said shoppers flock to the malls in droves this time of year, in large part because they're drawn to the idea of a holiday shopping experience.

Mall executives do their best to encourage the phenomenon by providing increasingly elaborate experiences, from piping holiday music through their store to handing out hot chocolate, Winegard said.

At London's Masonville Place, for instance, this year has even seen the introduction of an online reservation system to book visits with Santa in advance, according to general manager Sandra Lorentiu. The mall also boasts a 7.9-metre (26-foot) Christmas tree and amenities such free wifi and a gift wrap "valet."

"Increasingly, retailers are trying to create experiences with the shopping environment, and it couldn't be more true than in the holiday season," said Winegard. 

Shopper Deborah Nkubito says she's wary of ordering holiday presents online because of the risk that they may not arrive in time for Christmas. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Some shoppers, like 17-year-old Deborah Nkubito, also prefer shopping at the mall as a way to get inspiration for more discretionary purchases — such as gifts for friends and family. 

"I don't really know what to get most family members until I come and see — maybe they need socks, maybe they need this — that's where I get ideas from," said Nkubito.

And although brick and mortar retailers are consistently popular during the holidays, Winegard said they're likely to further increase their business this year as even the most steadfast online shoppers are pushed offline by the threat of lengthy shipping delays. 

Canada Post has said mail delivery delays are expected to be prolonged through the holiday season, and will affect southern and southwestern Ontario most severely.

Winegard said this is good news for retailers, because people buying in-store are more likely to browse around and spend extra money — something Phillips said he's noticed for himself.

"Certain things don't sell as well online, our home and niche products, you see them selling more when people come in because most people spend time looking around the store after they pick up a package," he said.

"'If I'm here, I might as well check out a few more things,' is their mentality."

And although the push toward in-person retail may be a good thing for business, Winegard issued a buyer-beware to consumers: Don't get so caught up in the "experience" of shopping this holiday season that you lose your head.

"Go to bricks and mortar locations in off-peak hours. When you have more time and physical space to make decisions, you make them much more informedly and less in haste," she said.


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