In conversation with Canadian Tire’s SVP of Merchandising
Regardless of size, location, or subsector, many retailers in Canada are asking themselves the same questions. How can we stand out in a competitive market? What are the right investments for the business when it comes to digital technology? What’s the best way to deliver on customer experience? How can we successfully implement an omnichannel strategy?
We spoke with Mike Magennis, Senior Vice-President of Merchandising at Canadian Tire, to get his perspective on some of the key issues in this year’s Retail Trends report and the industry itself.
On differentiating in a competitive market
Retailers need to understand what shoppers truly want to stay competitive. The key, Magennis says, is maintaining relevance with your customer base. “Retail is changing, like everything else. It used to revolve around product, price, and brand—now the importance of brand and experience is expanding.”
“For customers, it’s not just about getting the product at the right price; it’s how they experience our brand. As we think about the shopping process, we need to think about how we are engaging with those customers along the way.”
Canadian Tire uses a number of programs to gather information and create meaningful connections. By embedding this information into core decision-making processes and business strategies, says Magennis, it can deliver on attributes that customers value through programs like Triangle Rewards or Tested for Life in Canada.
Data as an important digital investment
Data is a vital tool for retailers, but business owners must go beyond simply collecting information. It must drive the business forward.
“If you’re data rich and insight poor, that data is not going to be helpful,” says Magennis, “There is a lot of great, valuable information available, but the key is to present and use it in a way that is digestible, transparent, and actionable in terms of moving the business forward.”
He cites the potential of predictive analytics, as well as automation and AI, to drive efficiency and experience. These tools can help retailers manage non-complex tasks and free up capacity for strategic work. They can also contribute to better customer relationships, by allowing retailers to identify high-value customers and create personalized experiences.
The role of bricks and mortar
Bricks and mortar still has a big role to play in retail, says Magennis, but it’s now embedded in an omnichannel experience, where digital and physical elements work together.
“That experience in the store, the touch and feel of the product, is very important,” he says. “The store needs to represent our brand promise. We see the store as the hub when we think about our retail strategy.”
Things like localization, community, and brand elevation are of the utmost importance—they must be reflected in everything from the product assortment, from the size and layout of the store to the fulfillment options.
Omnichannel retail is fundamentally changing the industry, but it’s not without its challenges. One of the biggest issues, says Magennis, is pace. Helping customers to shop for the products they want, when they want, and how they want is crucial, but that type of frictionless experience needs consistent and careful execution. As an omnichannel retailer, Canadian Tire takes care not to roll out new capabilities at the expense of the customer experience.
“For some, pace is more important than successful execution. There has to be a balance between the two,” says Magennis. “[Frictionless retail] is complicated, it’s dynamic, and it’s not cheap. These are specific investments that retailers are trying to make; you have to be very deliberate and very strategic in your approach.”
The drivers of the customer experience
At Canadian Tire, the customer experience is centred on consistency and delivering on the brand promise. Consumers are enabled to shop whenever and however they want to, and get the same experience across the entire network.
But consistency doesn’t mean staying the same.
“You’re never really done,” says Magennis. “There’s always change, because you’re dealing with people. It’s the nature of the business we’re in.” He highlights the test-and-learn culture as highly important. Retailers need to find better ways of doing things, whether that means trying out new initiatives or improving on existing ones—then build best practices into the business.
“Understand the question you’re trying to answer and measure it,” says Magennis. “If it’s working, scale it out. If not, move on. Be methodical and deliberate in driving the types of initiatives that will improve execution.”
Above all, a meaningful relationship has to exist. “Customers have an emotional connection with the Canadian Tire brand. We take that as a real privilege and take pride in it. We don’t take it for granted; we want to build on it.”