Go luxe for a less fre­netic black fri­day

Lux­ury re­tail­ers in canada of­fer unique choices

StarMetro Toronto - - SPECIAL REPORT: BLACK FRIDAY - Camilla Cor­nell

When it comes to Black Fri­day of­fer­ings, the newly vi­brant lux­ury shop­ping seg­ment should give well-healed Cana­di­ans a rea­son to shop at home, says Jim Danahy, CEO of re­tail ad­vi­sory firm the cus­tomerLab in Toronto. “We’ve cer­tainly seen an expansion in that seg­ment and we ex­pect more of it,” he said.

In the past few years, Canada has seen Amer­i­can lux re­tail­ers Nord­strom and Saks Fifth Av­enue ar­rive on the scene, while home­grown Holt Ren­frew has ex­panded its pres­ence. “We’ve never seen so much com­pe­ti­tion in the lux­ury shop­ping cat­e­gory,” said Danahy.

What’s driv­ing the growth? At least for the Amer­i­can re­tail­ers, it’s a func­tion of the fact that growth at home has been slug­gish, says Wendy Lieb­mann, CEO of WSL Strate­gic Re­tail. And when they’re looking to ex­pand, they tend to look for “places where there seems to be space in the mar­ket to of­fer unique choices and that are more cul­tur­ally fa­mil­iar and af­ford­able,” she said. “In the case of Canada, there’s a lot of real es­tate space.”

But when it comes to hol­i­day deals, Danahy warns, “Black Fri­day and lux­ury shop­ping are a bit of an oxy­moron.” Al­though many of these re­tail­ers may of­fer spe­cial pro­mo­tional mer­chan­dise for the hol­i­days, “they tend to com­pete more on as­sort­ment and ser­vice, than on price,” he said.

For ex­am­ple, Nord­strom — which now has five lo­ca­tions in Toronto (two), Ot­tawa, Van­cou­ver and Cal­gary — is known for its at­ten­tive sales staff. It has hired an ad­di­tional 11,400 sea­sonal em­ploy­ees for stores in Canada and the U.S., about 9,500 of them in sales and stock po­si­tions.

Nord­strom will kick off the hol­i­day sea­son with free sil­ver gift boxes in ev­ery de­part­ment and its own army of elves; bet­ter known as per­sonal stylists. Al­though the stylist ser­vice is avail­able free year-round, it’s a par­tic­u­larly “help­ful time saver dur­ing the busy hol­i­days,” said spokesper­son John Bai­ley.

Cus­tomers can make an ap­point­ment with a stylist by phone, on­line or in per­son, he adds, and they’ll “take care of ev­ery­thing on your list from find­ing the per­fect gift to deck­ing you out for party sea­son. They’ll even put items in gift boxes and ship your pack­ages.”

Nord­strom isn’t dis­pens­ing with sales ei­ther. It will of­fer an ex­tra 20 per cent off select clear­ance items from Nov. 24 through Nov. 28, for ex­am­ple. But Bai­ley says the com­pany still doesn’t re­ally have a sense of how Black Fri­day will “trans­late in Canada,” since it just opened its doors.

Saks Fifth Av­enue will put the fo­cus on cus­tomer ser­vice this hol­i­day sea­son. Its 25,000-square­foot space in Toronto of­fers per­sonal stylists to give cus­tomers the kind of VIP treat­ment they can’t get just any­where. Think ac­cess to a pri­vate lounge and roomy lux­ury shop­ping suites.

And if you’re looking for shoes…well, Saks Ea­ton Cen­tre location of­fers more than a thousand pairs to choose from, in­clud­ing an en­tire ta­ble of Manolo Blah­nik. Called 10022, the Saks shoe sec­tion is named af­ter the orig­i­nal Man­hat­tan store’s shoe de­part­ment — it was so ex­pan­sive it re­quired a new zip code.

That said, “don’t ex­pect a whole lot from Sak’s that is pricere­lated,” said Danahy. “They may have spe­cial mer­chan­dise and spe­cial of­fers, but it’s less likely to be driven by price.”

Ditto for Holt Ren­frew — which Danahy calls the “doyen of lux­ury re­tail­ers in Canada.” Its four stores in Toronto and one store each in Cal­gary, Ed­mon­ton and Van­cou­ver have al­ready be­gun to dis­play an as­sort­ment of high-end stock­ing stuffers such as a Re­becca Minkoff card­holder ($100) and an Anya Hind­march coin purse with a pix­e­lated smile ($395). And you’ll also find a range of sea­sonal cos­metic gift sets rang­ing in price from $32 to $2,415.

nord­strom will kick off the hol­i­day sea­son with free sil­ver gift boxes in ev­ery de­part­ment. Todd Korol/ToronTo STar

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