Nova Scotia

N.S. retailers have high hopes for Christmas season after rough year

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, businesses in Nova Scotia are finding ways to navigate the holiday season.

Christmas season accounts for more than half of some retailers income, says business professor

Steve Smith owns Bungalow Beans. He sells coffee and treats at the Cape Breton Farmers' Market. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Some Nova Scotia retailers are hoping strong Christmas sales will make up for a year in which COVID-19 hammered many businesses' bottom lines.

Halifax business professor Ed McHugh said Christmas revenue can account for more than half of a retailer's income.

In a year where many local shops were forced to close, McHugh said the holiday season becomes critical.

"There's a real desire out there and research showing people really want to spend local this year," he said.

Steve Smith is the owner of Bungalow Beans. He sells coffee at the Cape Breton Farmers' Market, but also sells coffee beans and other sweets. He said buying local is especially vital right now.

"The money that I make here in the farmers market goes back to the farmers market and it goes into my personal bank account that I spend here living in Cape Breton," he said. "It doesn't go to the U.S., it doesn't go to China. It stays right here."

Smith said shopping in person offers the best experience for both independent retailers and the consumer.

Business professor Ed McHugh says many consumers want to buy local this Christmas season. (www.edmchugh.ca)

"I think if people are concerned about crowds, then shopping local is definitely the way to go," Smith said. "The shops are smaller; you can ... get fewer people in the shops."

The Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce is encouraging businesses to extend store hours over the coming weeks based on when consumers prefer shopping. CEO Kathleen Yurchesyn said studies have shown that most shopping in store happens after 6:00 p.m.

She said retailers must adapt in other ways.

"Businesses recognized that there's many people that can't come home for the holiday season, of course, with the Atlantic bubble," Yurchesyn said.

Kathleen Yurchesyn, CEO of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce, says volunteers are needed to help recruit and retain health-care professionals. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

For this reason, she expects that people who won't be able to visit home over Christmas and buy goods in store while here will instead do so online. If Nova Scotia retailers don't have an online presence, this will be problematic, said Yurchesyn.

McHugh said as much as 20 per cent of shopping now happens online.

"People enjoy the convenience of it," he said.

Unless small retailers already have a solid online presence, he thinks online shopping is more beneficial to industry giants like Walmart and Amazon.

Matt Rogers, the president of Bishop's Cellar in Halifax, said his business has already succeeded on that front. The downtown Halifax liquor store has used online sales for the past decade, but ramped up their efforts to send products online due to the pandemic.

The president of Bishop's Cellar in Halifax says the store bought its own delivery truck this year in response to increased demand from online ordering. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"This year, it has proven to be the way most intend to shop," Rogers said.

The business purchased its own delivery truck this year to meet demand from online ordering.

Rogers said web chats with workers at the store help people order products from the comfort of their home or office.

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