With the advent of the internet and digital technologies, the retail trade is in full transformation. New jobs are being created and local businesses have to take the digital route. Despite many challenges, the future looks promising. Meeting with Léopold Turgeon CEO of the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail (www.cqcd.org)
Overall, how is the retail trade in Quebec and Canada doing?
First of all, I would like to make it clear that the situation is much the same in Quebec and the rest of Canada, although I will give figures for Quebec. Secondly, it is difficult to paint an overall picture of the industry, since the subsectors are not homogeneous. If I look at the total figures, everything is fine: for the third year in a row sales have increased (6% in 2016, 7% in 2017, 4.2% in 2018). On the other hand, out of 19 subsectors, three are driving the growth: automotive, gasoline and health care products. The others have variable geometry and depend on various factors. For example, the clothing field is closely related to gasoline: when gasoline rises, clothing declines.
What are today’s challenges?
There are 3 main ones:
- The workforce. New technologies are a game-changer and specialists have to be found to fill new positions.
- This results in another challenge, that of appropriation of technology. In fact, 90% of the businesses in this sector are local businesses with 50 employees or less. They therefore have few financial and human resources. For them, the big challenge is to make the digital turn.
- Sustainable development. Governments legislate on all single-use products such as plastic. This has an enormous impact on manufacturing companies that need to revisit their ways of doing things. It’s a complete change of mentality. There are also all the issues related to extended producer responsibility (EPR), the principle that companies are responsible for end-of-life management of the products they put on the market. Therefore, any object that is returned to the sorting centre incurs costs for the company.
What sectors have been most affected by the explosion of the internet?
Electronics stores are on the front lines. The clothing sector as well, but its results are cyclical, because as mentioned earlier it depends on the money remaining in the consumer’s pocket once he has paid for his gasoline, among other things.
Which areas are still working well?
Hardware has just had two good years with 3.5% growth.
Is it still possible to consider making a career in the retail trade?
Yes, not only is it possible to envisage a good career, but there are more and more interesting positions. With the advent of digital technology, new jobs are being created and they are very well paid. It is often forgotten that jobs in the retail trade are not limited to sales clerks.
Among the job opportunities there are, for example, positions for programmers and web integrators, social media enthusiast or community manager, metadata analyst, digital marketing specialist or online business specialist. There is also a shortage of customer service staff. In addition, with artificial intelligence and robots, facial recognition, voice assistants, virtual reality, new jobs are being created. Anyone who wants to work in this sector has many career opportunities. And companies have no choice but to innovate, because the competition is global. However, we have everything needed here in Quebec and Canada to respond to these new challenges and find the workforce.
What advice would you give to a young job seeker who wants to go down this road?
It all depends on what he wants to do. If he wants a management position, the retirement of the baby-boomers opens many possibilities. If he wants to specialize in technology, artificial intelligence and robotics offers great career prospects.
How do you see the future of the retail trade?
We are building it right now by combining an online store and a “bricks and mortar” store. Up to now, it was one or the other. Now they are both together. Merchants and consumers alike have everything to gain with a unified experience. For example, you order your tools online, then pick them up at the store. From there production will be increased and costs lowered. It is also important to remember that 93% of people still by at the store even though 80% shop on their tablet or smartphone. Online shops cannot reach their targets alone. In short, jobs are changing but the consumer needs products. Bricks and mortar will still be there for a long time.