Downtown recovery: welcome to the digital era

2 minutes

Montreal centre-ville

Several businesses and retailers were able to keep their head above the water thanks to their ability to innovate. Orders, deliveries, logistics: the recent reality has taught us that it takes much more than just a nice display to stand out. And good news: personalization and responsiveness are still essential.

“Survival and hope.” These are the words that come to mind when Stéphane Drouin thinks of the past few months. The General Manager of the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail (CQCD) reports that the uncertainty and delayed reopenings have caused a great deal of stress to its members. “About 70 to 80% of businesses have, at most, two months’ worth of liquidity ahead of them,” he explains.

An accelerator for retailers

In his opinion, “it was crucial that we quickly get involved in the recovery plan to help implement support and valuing strategies.” Under pressure, he sees the crisis as an accelerator: “Not all retailers were at the same level, particularly when it comes to delivery and pick-up.” He mentions initiatives such as Montréal centre-ville’s Génie centre-ville. Since mid-June, this initiative allows consumers to shop, order, and receive their goods—products sold in this Quebec economic lung—thanks to ultra-fast shipping.

Looking to the future, and in a context of sustainable mobility, Jalon Montréal is working to reduce the ecological footprint and improve the delivery experience. Its pilot project, Colibri, consists of offering delivery services in the Ville-Marie area, using electric cargo bikes. It’s a “turning point in urban innovation and logistics. It’s clearly becoming a necessity,” believes Danielle Charrette, interim General Manager.

Turnkey delivery

All retailers agree: consumers expect shorter, faster delivery times. At Vinum Design, this sometimes translates to just a few hours after placing an order, explains President Marc Gaudry. Mobilia’s Johannes Kau echoes this: “Logistics and transportation have really been through the ringer, with trucks being so highly solicited.”

Online since July, Mobilia offers an appointment option allowing customers to fill out a questionnaire, reserve a time slot, and show up at the store, where a representative will be ready for them. At-risk individuals can also schedule a pick-up outside business hours. Through videoconferencing, you can also walk through the store or get help making purchases via the website.

Action: reaction

Instead of automated emails and generic forms, responsiveness, regardless of the communication method, is key. In the hotel industry, buying local is more important than ever. Downtown hotels and associations are making every effort to express the importance of booking with them directly or by phone instead of using external interfaces, which offer the same price, but generate significant transaction fees.

Technology also helps retailers. Think no-contact payment terminals, or the initiative, which has enabled dozens of downtown businesses to show their local nature. Elsewhere in Quebec, companies are offering noteworthy, inspiring personalized approaches. The Bar à Lunette, for instance, uses webcams to allow customers to try on glasses. It’s a mixture of virtual reality, simplicity, and made-to-measure service.

What about the future?

Stéphane Drouin of the CQCD is hopeful for an even stronger, more modern retail sector. “Those who survive this can survive anything.” The end-of-June announcement that American artificial intelligence company Behavox would be investing $35 M and taking residence in Maison Manuvie in 2021, and the early-July announcement of the reopening of food courts like Le Cathcart and the Time Out Market, will have added colour, leaving the gloom of spring behind.