Waiting for Target: Canadian retailers retrench

Retail companies brace for the U.S. juggernaut to set up shop north of the border

(Bill Sikes/AP Photo)

A dark cloud has been forming over the Canadian retail landscape this month. Hudson’s Bay Co., Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw Companies Ltd. have all announced major job cuts. HBC said it will be laying off 210 employees as it moves its information-services department from Toronto to Missouri. Shoppers Drug Mart cut 80 jobs from its head and regional offices. Last week, Loblaw said it is cutting 700 head-office jobs as it looks to streamline operations.

One of the causes: the U.S. retail juggernaut Target Corp., which is opening 189 locations across Canada and which will offer stiff competition in the pharmacy, clothing and grocery businesses. With more retailers looking to expand their offerings and lower prices (Loblaw has already been struggling with Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s expansion into groceries), it’s getting harder for companies to distinguish themselves, says Kenneth Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s University. But Wong suggests that the magnitude of the layoffs “suggests there is also something larger at play” than just bracing for Target, or the rising costs associated with drug reforms that Shoppers cited as the reason for its cuts. He says a slowing economy is the main culprit. And that’s bad news for Canadian retailers and U.S. invaders alike.

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