National Post (National Edition)
Allow curbside pickup for all stores, groups urge
Small businesses challenge Quebec `pause'
MONTREAL • Business groups are pushing for Quebec to start allowing even non-essential retailers to offer curbside pickup in a bid to mitigate the economic impacts of the current lockdown.
The Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Small Business both said Monday they plan to lobby Quebec so that all businesses — not just essential services — are allowed to let customers pick up online orders outside stores during the two-week “pause” that began Christmas Day.
Premier François Legault announced the latest restrictions Dec. 15. The measures don’t apply to essential services such as grocery stores, supermarkets, drugstores, hardware stores and garages. “Big-box” stores such as Costco or Walmart can stay open, though they must only sell essential goods.
“Curbside pickup is crucial because it would allow small retailers to avoid having all of their sales eaten up by the web giants,” said François Vincent, Quebec vice-president at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “Many of our members are struggling financially because of the pandemic. We have to find alternatives that allow them to make some sales.”
Banning curbside pickup puts small retailers at a disadvantage because it forces them to use shipping companies, the CFIB argues.
“Shipping represents an additional cost. It makes small retailers less competitive vis-à-vis the big retailers,” Vincent said in a telephone interview.
Vincent recently wrote to Legault to urge him to reconsider banning non-essential businesses from offering curbside pickup. His group represents 110,000 small business owners across Canada, including 24,000 in Quebec. “We’re not stopping representations just because some of us are on vacation at this time of the year,” Vincent said. “We’re going to follow up with the different ministries. We don’t see the danger if someone picks up a box right outside a store.”
As COVID cases mount, many retailers are worried the lockdown will be extended past Jan. 11, said Marc Fortin, Quebec president of the Retail Council of Canada.
“If non-essential businesses are going to remain shut for longer, we are going to need to make other solutions available to consumers, including curbside pickup,” Fortin said Monday in a telephone interview. “If people need new boots or a winter coat at this time of year, they can’t afford to wait two weeks for the box to arrive.”
Some consumers also don’t have a credit card — for instance if they’ve filed for personal bankruptcy. This “cash economy” may represent up to 25 per cent of overall sales, according to Fortin.
“Some people only function with cash,” Fortin said. “What are they going to do if they need to make an urgent purchase during the lockdown? They can’t go online.”
To curtail health risks, Quebec could consider allowing all non-essential services businesses to open — but with a much-reduced capacity, perhaps as little as 15 per cent, Fortin said.
“Many re tailers have developed applications to manage customer appointments, so they could definitely assign each shopper a half-hour slot to make their purchases,” he said. “That way it becomes a personalized experience that respects social distancing guidelines. It also prevents people from queuing up outside in the middle of winter.”
Discussions with Quebec government officials about possible adjustments to the lockdown rules will probably resume in early January, Fortin said. “Retailers would much rather be open and make sales, even with less capacity, than to be completely shut down,” Fortin added.