Hudson's Bay Co. hopes to transform its website into Canada’s next online shopping marketplace in a bid to position itself as a premium, home-grown alternative to e-commerce heavy hitters like Amazon.
The company will open its website to third-party sellers starting later this month, adding hundreds of new brands and thousands of items to its online assortment of products at a time when pandemic restrictions have curtailed in-person shopping.
The new site will include electronics and sporting goods, pushing the retailer beyond tried-and-true categories like clothing and home decor as it seeks to attract and retain customers who increasingly demand a strong online presence.
The company has to find the right balance between maintaining its premium brand and expanding its inventory, executives said in an interview.
"Although it will very much be a vast assortment, it will feel curated," said Adam Powell, senior vice-president of omni customer experience.
"We're not going to approach it in the same way that Amazon our Walmart would, which is 'absolutely everything goes' … with little consideration other than having as many products as possible."
Shoppers will have access to more products, some of which will be sold and shipped directly by Hudson’s Bay -- and can be returned in store -- while others will be sold and shipped by third-party sellers that also manage returns for those items.
The Hudson’s Bay marketplace, hosted on the Mirakl software-as-a-service platform, comes a little over a year after the iconic company was taken private.
Since then, many of its department stores have been closed for months on end amid COVID-19 restrictions, hundreds of workers have been laid off and competition online has soared as consumers take to internet shopping in record numbers.
Although the company’s digital strategy was in place before the pandemic – the retailer relaunched its website last April using a new e-commerce platform from Salesforce – it has taken on more urgency amid lockdowns.
"This was the most logical way to really expand our digital first strategy at a supercharged rate," Iain Nairn, said president and CEO of Hudson's Bay.
"It opens up thebay.com for one-stop shopping."
Even post-pandemic, retail watchers say consumers will continue to shop more online and look for “omni-channel” options such as picking up online purchases at stores, while in-store shopping will focus more on interacting with products.
“It’s actually creating the store to be more exciting and have more experiences,” Nairn said. “There may not be as much absolute product but there will be more options for them to look at" before they purchase online.
The idea is to use stores as more of a showroom for products, with a wider selection available online and shipped directly to customers, Powell said.
“What we want to do is extend the aisle for in-store shoppers,” he said. “We want our in-store customers to know that when they're shopping in our stores, they have access to a much broader catalogue than what resides within those four walls.”
Like the new HBC marketplace, some other online retailers like Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon also allow third-party sellers.
Yet HBC is banking on the department store’s unique position as a Canadian retailer with a reputation for higher-end goods to attract customers.
The company has about 225 million website visits a year and 5.6 million loyalty rewards members, numbers HBC expects will attract sellers interested in reaching Canadian shoppers.
Hudson's Bay marketplace will feature large multinational third-party sellers of brand-name goods as well as smaller vendors, artisans and entrepreneurs, the company said.
The retailer even issued a call out for "cool local and Canadian brands" with direct-to-consumer shipping capabilities and inventory on hand, providing a national platform for handmade products that might normally be sold on websites like Etsy, Facebook marketplace or Kijiji.
“It will be a variety of different sellers that will run the gamut from big strategic partners that are larger well-known organizations to smaller or independent businesses,” Powell said. “It gives us a great opportunity to showcase local products and local retailers from the communities.
The focus will be on merchandise customers are already searching for, including technology, sports equipment, pet products, food and drink and health and wellness, Powell said.
“We can tell by our search results that these types of categories are products that our customers are already looking,” he said. “If Nintendo launches a new console, we see that coming up in our search results, so it won’t feel foreign to a customer to stumble upon these new categories that we're going to be introducing.
"It'll be a real natural extension from our existing business, and it'll still be very much in keeping with the types of areas and quality that we want to portray with our customers."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021.
Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press