on the hudson’s bay company.

May 13, 2008

canadians (likely much like any other people) are obsessed with national symbols, but only in a rather latent way. much like the opera, they are glad that their icons of nationhood exist, even if they are rarely front-and-centre in any individual’s mindset. when they come under attack, however, people will be up in arms, caught in a surge of nationalism that will lament the death of canadian sovereignty, while at the same time accepting no personal responsibility for any of the thousand cuts that killed the latest cause célèbre.

take, for example, the cbc’s decision to disband the radio orchestra. an attack on canadian culture! pretty soon, we’ll be just like the USA! what about the good ol’ days? this, of course, flies in the face of logic; this is the same people who elected a government that is decidedly committed to neo-liberalism and pulling the welfare state apart; in any case, i fail to see how listening to bach, chopin and mozart is reflective of canadian culture.

thus, we have the hudson’s bay company, quite possibly the largest icon of canadiana not directly controlled by government (and certainly the oldest, predating confederation by nearly 200 years). when it comes to stereotypes, your typical canadian will only shop at one store: the bay. of course, while we’re at it, it’s fair to assume that said canadian will devote 15-20% of their weekly food budget towards maple syrup or it’s derivatives.

but the reality is that the hudson’s bay company is hardly the great establishment that it once was. not to say that one could realistically expect it to still hold the status that it once did, on the level with the legendary dutch east india company. still, it is a huge company with a huge burden (both cultural and financial). so, in a world where the department store is (quickly) going the way of the dinosaur, it survives through sheer willpower, it would seem. unfortunately, it does not come anywhere close to rivaling the galleries lafayette in paris or harrod’s in london; more unfortunately, though, is that it sometimes seems to have difficulty positioning itself as a serious competitor to wal-mart. indeed, walking through the downtown vancouver location on a sunday afternoon, when it should be jam-packed, one could imagine that this is what shopping in the soviet union must have been like.

the bay is full of stuff on sale. it seems that every table display has some kind of discount attached to it. sometimes, they’re quite ridiculous: the other day, i saw some goods that were labelled “up to 50% off” followed by “take another 70% off the last ticketed price” underneath. one of the simple rules of economics is that lowering the price will provide an incentive to buy. however, people still aren’t buying. the bay is is having a hard time virtually giving stuff away. in a world where the economics of “free” rule, this is preposterous. what is wrong here?

like i said, shopping at the bay is like shopping in the soviet union. there is a complete disconnect between what consumers want and what is actually offered. thus, i find a bunch of hot pink shorts on the sale rack going for $30 (originally $100) in the men’s department. what is wrong in the marketing department?

here’s my idea:

  1. reduce floor space: does the bay really need eight floors? find the least profitable departments, eliminate them and rent out the floors as office space (in a historical building).
  2. improve lighting: there is no natural light in your building. none! change this!
  3. prioritize locations: you want your flashiest, most exciting things on the ground level – where street-goers will see them.
  4. add a flagship café: vancouver loves its coffee; add a luxury coffeeshop – the kind of place where you want to take your mother for lunch – and watch the foot traffic explode.
  5. add a grocery store: for real. there are few downtown grocery stores; add a big self-serve/take out section and you’ll have a lot of traffic in the store over the lunch hour.
  6. cater to the other 50%: acknowledge that men like clothing too instead of relegating us to the basement.
  7. aim high: don’t be afraid to raise your prices, assuming you increase the quality of your goods. in any case, you shouldn’t be afraid of abandoning your lower-end shoppers; that’s what field’s and zellers are there for

it’s not too late for the bay, as long as they acknowledge that they can’t keep living in the ’50s…the 1850s.

that was not the greatest post ever, but all of the sudden, my energy has been sapped, and i don’t see fit to improve my argument. may the blog gods have mercy on me.

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One Response to “on the hudson’s bay company.”

  1. alex Says:

    I think it’s funny that your recommendations for saving L’Baie, which Canadians can’t lose or “pretty soon, we’ll be just like the USA!” are pretty much to turn it into a Nordstrom’s, a distinctly US shopping experience =)


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