More retail categories alter operations

While many stores will close for at least two weeks, others are limiting hours in order to give Canadians access to goods they need.

Canadian Tire

Restaurants, QSRs and coffee chains have limited their operations to take-out, drive-through and delivery only. As the week has gone on, more retailers in other categories have altered their hours and operations to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Beginning Thursday, all 500 Canadian Tire stores will be operating on limited hours. All other Canadian Tire-owned retailers – such as Sport Chek, Party City and Mark’s – will be closed from today until April 2, when the situation will be re-assessed. All staff at closed stores will continue to be paid.

In a statement, the company said Canadian Tire stores provide “essential products Canadians need during this time,” and operating at limited hours would allow it to continue providing those products while also allowing for “enhanced” cleaning and restocking. All brands can also still be shopped online, though CEO Greg Hicks says an increased volume of orders could result in longer wait times for order fulfillment, a sentiment echoed by many other retailers that have closed.

Though not a company-wide practice yet, the release also noted that some associate stores have followed the lead of most grocery stores in Canada by instituting special shopping hours for older customers and others who may be more susceptible to COVID-19.

Other general merchandise and department stores have planned to close this week: Hudson’s Bay announced it stores (including Saks) would be closed for two weeks beginning on Tuesday, shortly after Nordstrom made a similar announcement. Walmart Canada has yet to provide an update on any limitations to its operations, beyond a memo on Friday outlining enhanced cleaning procedures and staff leave policies.

After a week of rumours that both would closing, beginning Thursday, both the LCBO and The Beer Store announced limited hours. LCBO locations will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with The Beer Store would be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Both alcohol retailers also announced the temporary suspension of empty bottle return programs until regular operations resume, to keep staff and customers safe. The LCBO also says it will continue to suspend in-store tastings, and will be limiting the flow of traffic in-stores to help people keep a safe distance. In Quebec, the SAQ has announced similar changes to its hours and operating procedures, in addition to only allowing customers to pay with debit or credit to limit handling of physical money.

While electronics retailer The Source will temporarily close, Best Buy and Staples have said their stores will operate on limited hours and with fewer customers allowed in-store at one time, at a time when most of the country is now working from a home office. Video game retailer EB Games was criticized for planning to have some locations continue to host a “midnight release party” for a new game in the Animal Crossing series, which would draw large crowds and put both customers and staff at risk. After saying on Tuesday that the events were still on, EB Games told The Toronto Star on Wednesday that it had decided to cancel the event, and would instead remain open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Some Toronto-area locations have been seen limiting the amount of people allowed in store at once.

rremWith stores closing, reputation management is becoming a key part of maintaining brand health in the long term –  Canadians have been particularly vocal when they’ve seen a brand not make an effort to keep the public safe or to take care of impacted employees.

Since Tuesday, a number of retailers have announced plans to join those that will outright close for at least two weeks, spanning product categories. They include furniture and decor (IKEA Canada and Structube), fashion (Holt Renfrew, H&M, Uniqlo, Aritzia and Le Chateau) and entertainment goods (Toys R’ Us and Indigo). All companies have stated their intention to pay employees during the closures.

Many of the closed stores represent common tenants at most of Canada’s malls; at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, all stores appeared to be closed (pictured, left), with the exception of Canadian Tire, Best Buy and restaurants in the food court, though seating has been removed.