By Braden Dupuis
In an announcement that caught even their own employees off guard, Best Buy Canada announced last week it would be closing 15 Canadian Best Buy and Future Shop stores, effective immediately.
The reasoning behind the closures, according to a Best Buy Canada news release, is a corporate shift to what Best Buy is calling “small-concept” web stores – small locations designed for customers to browse through before making their purchases online.
But the move didn’t come as a shock to everybody.
“I’m not really surprised,” said Harvey King, an economics professor with the University of Regina.
“Sometimes that’s just part of the normal give and take of industries, right? Things grow and change. I don’t see it as the end of the world in terms of big changes.”
Despite the increase of online shoppers in recent years, King doesn’t view the online market as a threat to Canadian retail overall.
“It’s growing, but not at a huge rate,” King said of the online market.
“It’s getting more and more important, but it’s still not really huge in terms of its overall dominance in the market.”
While certain vulnerable industries like music and video have been “hollowed out” by the rise of widespread internet services, it’s hard to see the same thing happening to other areas of retail, King said.
People are much more hesitant to make purchases online when it comes to things like clothes, cars or washing machines or “what people call experience goods, where you want to go and try it out to some degree before you buy it,” King said.
Despite the initial reluctance of the consumer public to commit to that type of online shopping, that hasn’t stopped some retailers from trying to buck the trend.
“I think they are (trying) a little bit already, and I know that there’s a lot of places that are going to stab at that and try,” King said, adding that when it comes to items like clothes, online retailers who offer good return policies are often the ones who succeed.
Abraham Lancaster, a commission-based salesperson for The Brick, said that while he still has a job, the rise of online shopping has had a noticeable effect on his livelihood.
“Absolutely it has. There’s no commission being paid,” he said.
“If you’re buying something online you’re paying the same price for it that you would be if you were buying it in the store, but (the money) is just going to directly to the company.”
While Lancaster has his worries about online shopping’s effect on Canadian retail jobs, he said he is confident he could find a replacement job if need be.
And according to King, the loss of 900 retail jobs is just a drop in the bucket.
“That’s not a lot in a country that usually creates 200,000 jobs a year,” he said, adding that there will always be the need for young employees in the so-called “service areas.”
“They might not always be retail, maybe more likely they’ll be in restaurants or in other areas,” he said.
“I think some retail jobs will be changing, but it’s hard to predict.”
But the state of retail jobs isn’t the only unpredictable factor when it comes to the Internet and economics.
“Fifteen years ago, nobody would have predicted streaming video would basically destroy someone like Blockbuster, which 15 years ago was busy destroying other places,” King said.
“That’s the hardest part to see.”