Category Archives for "Retail"

Big Grocer is Watching you!

By Randall Orser | Business , marketing strategy , Retail

Did you know that grocers are using artificial intelligence to make shopping faster, easier and far more trackable?  The new technology that they are using will one day, (and that is not too far away) allow you to put your shopping in your cart, and go straight to your car, load up and head home with no human contact and without having to wait in the checkout line or tap your debit or credit card. Sound unbelievable? well it is already in place and depending on how you look at what is really happening here you might see it as a good thing or a bad thing.

The new smart carts being rolled out have their own scanner so that customers can scan the items with barcodes before putting them into the cart.  If items do not have a barcode the cart's sensors will weigh them.  In the future we can expect the carts to have cameras, artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognize items placed into them without the use of a barcode. This invisible checkout system has been used in Asia for several years and it is now getting more and more available in North America.  The Amazon Go Grocery outlet opened in Seattle this year and at some Walmart urban super centre locations where customers can use the My Walmart app to scan products as they shop, bypassing checkout lines.  They pay via smartphone using a credit card already registered with the store and then exit through Fast Lane checkouts. 

For the consumer this is an ideal way to shop, they have control over the time they spend shopping and can choose their own produce, still impulse buy, monitor their grocery purchases to stay within their budget, avoid line-ups, and avoid having to pay (at least until their credit card statement arrives).

Behind the scenes the advantages for the grocer is that they can gather data about shoppers and their habits.  They are already doing this when you use your "Save on More" or equivalent card they can see what you buy and tailor their advertising emails to you to suggest discounts on items that you normally buy.   Grocery stores generate around $7 billion a month in sales and this is still growing.  

It is hoped that this automation will not mean that many people will lose their jobs, but instead will be moved to the sales floor to interact more with customers and answer questions about products, however some job losses will be inevitable.

From an article by Charlene Rooke

Do Businesses Need Better Access to Rent Subsidies?

By Randall Orser | Business , Retail

Though the emergency wage subsidies that the Government of Canada put in place have been reasonably successful according to Laura Jones the executive vice-president and chief strategic officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program has been a failure.

When tens of thousands of businesses were forced to shut down at the start of the pandemic many of these were immediately unable to pay their rent.  Though most financial experts recommend having at least a three month rainy day fund most businesses did not have that luxury before the crisis and and definitely do not now after an extended period of lost revenue and reduced operating hours.  Now so far into the pandemic even the most established businesses have drained their rainy day funds.  Back in June a survey showed that 50% of business owners could not make their rent without government help and 22% feared eviction.

Financial experts do not see an improvement in the situation going into 2021 so government relief programs will be of the highest important to support small businesses.   The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program has been a failure even though on paper it looked like a good idea.  Tenants would get a 75% break on their rent with provincial and federal governments kicking in 50% that is paid to the landlord with the landlord agreeing to take a 25% reduction in the total rent, in this way the burden would be shared.

There were two problems with this program, firstly the landlord has to agree to participate but many landlords want full rent so have not signed up.  Secondly only businesses who have suffered a 70% loss of revenue are eligible, this high amount means that many businesses are not eligible.  From this information it is not surprising that the finance department only spent less than 10% of it's committed funding on the CECRA program.  

Now that the CECRA has ended it is hoped that the a new commercial rent relief program will be rolled out that will allow tenants to access the 50% of government provided rent relief with or without the participation of their landlord and reducing the 70% loss of monthly revenue eligibility to something more reasonable.  As we are now in the second wave of the pandemic these changes are needed for the present and the foreseeable future.

From an article by Ali Amad

Will Wage Subsidies Help Retail Businesses?

By Randall Orser | Budget , Covid-19 , Employees , Retail , Small Business

Though the lockdown of last Spring was the right thing to do to keep people safe and flatten the curve, but it did a huge amount of damage to the economy.  Canadian retailers saw a 26% fall in sales during quarantine and 40% of retailers had to close their doors.  

Stores offering non-essential products and services such as clothing stores were the hardest hit, along with gas stations as people were no longer travelling.  However those selling essential goods found themselves thriving and even experiencing surging sales such as in groceries, home renovations, alcohol and cannabis.

Canadian retailers have been slow to transition to on-line sales but the pandemic has forced them to adopt e-commerce techologies to try and keep themselves in business and as a result e-commerce sales have more than doubled year over year.  Although it means that Canadian retailers face competition from others worldwide it also gives them the opportunity to expand their market share at home, especially if they sell niche products.  

In 2021 it is likely that retail business will still suffer a bumpy ride.  As we are seeing now there will probably be sporadic shut downs due to minor outbreaks but these are likely to be more regional.  During this time retailers can expect sales to fall and they will have to deal with high labour costs and the costs of having to comply with health regulations but it is hoped that on-line sales will be a stop-gap solution to keep them in business.

The federal government is continuing to support businesses by extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program into 2021, coving 75% of employees wages for those that are eligible.  This will help retailers to avoid bankruptcy and will give employees more disposable income to spend.  

Even with these new ways of doing business and federal help it is unlikely that many in the retail sector will survive another major lockdown.  However localized shutdowns will allow the majority of retailers to stay open and keep some revenue coming in until a vaccine arrives.

From an article by Ali Amad

Business Continuity in a Crisis

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Retail

Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on businesses and the beginning of the pandemic was definitely no exception.  As consumers stockpiled goods, stores and their supply chains struggled to keep up and keep shelves stocked.  What came out of this situation is the need for senior decision makers to have risk-management and crisis planning strategies in place.

If a business is to survive in a crisis it is important to have:

  • A well tested business continuity plan already in place 
  • Strong leadership to ensure swift and decisive action in response to a crisis
  • Quick and honest communications with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders and where appropriate the media
  • Compassion for employees and customers impacted by the crisis
  • Being prepared to adopt alternative working, technological or communication systems, including changes to company operations, providing personal protective equipment, continuous sanitizing of workspaces and equipment, training staff in new protocols, and where appropriate facilitating remote working for employees.
  • Having access to financial and other resources to help absorb the costs of the crisis, an early and aggressive review of cash flow and the development of a cash management plan

Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis unfolded without much warning so it was difficult for businesses to make preparations beforehand. It was and is important for businesses to take advantage of all the help available from governments and other organizations.  There the operations of the business should be continuously reviewed and changes made when necessary.  Everyone involved with the business should be kept fully apprised of all changes to business operations.  Managers must be given the resources to be able to act quickly, decisively and effectively and they should know how to access external help and advice.

From an article by CPA Canada

Be Wary of Adding a Covid-19 Surcharge to your Business

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail , Small Business

As businesses reopen they have to try and make up lost revenue while at the same time having additional operating expenses due to Covid-19.  According to a survey in May by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 70% of Canadian businesses reported a 30% drop in revenue and the other 30% reported a 40% drop.  On top of these losses businesses have had to cover the cost of the new health and safety protocols including social distancing, cleaning, sanitizing and personal protective equipment.

To try and offset these new expenses some businesses have introduced a Covid-19 surcharge a fixed amount or percentage which is added to the total bill.  While this surcharge is understandable because of the extra cost of dealing with customers during the pandemic, there are some considerations that should be made prior to passing these costs onto the customer.

1.  Consider the ways that you can make extra revenue - these could include making the surcharge optional or donation based, adjusting services or products offered or increasing prices.  The pandemic has had a greater impact on small businesses but they should still take time to consider what is the best way for them to adjust to this new norm and whether it will be temporary or permanent.  They should make sure that they have exhausted all government relief options before charging customers extra.   It should also be a time to focus on giving exceptional service to clients so as to not lose the ones that you have.  If you do apply a surcharge customers need to understand that it is due to the additional costs to reopen your business.

2.  If a surcharge is the right action for your business you need to decide to how you will calculate this additional fee - either as a percentage of the total bill or a fixed amount and it is important to remove it as soon as restrictions are lifted and your business goes back to normal.  Customers need to know that this surcharge is for a specific time and the cut off date will be honoured by your business.  The last thing that you need is for your clients to perceive that you are gouging in a time when everyone is going through financial difficulties.   It is important to inform customers of this extra charge in advance and explain why it is being implemented.

3.  Be upfront and honest with your customers - you need to clearly communicate to your clients the the surcharge is in place long before they reach your checkout.  Customers would rather know in advance so that they can make the decision whether or not to make the business transaction with you.  You should post on your website and social media, inform customers when they make an appointment or during phone calls, and make sure there is a notice posted on your store window or door.  

The response from consumers to paying a surcharge has been varied depending upon the industry type or products offered.  Once they understand why they are being charged extra most people are supportive especially if they know that there is an end date and they know that it is not an opportunity for the business to extra money.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

Will Covid-19 Change Grocery Shopping Forever?

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail

Before Covid-19 many of us enjoyed grocery shopping often making multiple trips a week to get fresh ingredients for a special meal.  Today, what was a simple chore has become a stressful challenge as many Canadians feel like they are preparing themselves for a battle wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, lining up to enter the store, following store aisle signage and keeping six feet away from other shoppers. 

Supermarkets have had to work hard to navigate Covid-19 and plan for the future.  From dealing with panic buying, empty shelves and customer complaints to the present foot traffic restrictions, taped markings on floors, dedicated hours for vulnerable shoppers to one way shopping aisles and plexiglas screens separating cashiers from customers.

Not only shoppers are nervous, store employees who have been designated front line workers have been at a heightened risk since the pandemic started.  Safety measures for them only arrived gradually and well after community transmission was underway.  As a way of recognizing the risk that their employees were working under, four of Canada's main grocery chains increased their hourly wages.  In addition the federal government announced it would allocate $3 billion to top up the wages of frontline workers and another billion came from the provinces.  However it is unclear how much will go to grocery workers and how long it will be for.  

The biggest change in the grocery market is that people have changed to buying on-line.  Many of us will remember at the start of the pandemic trying to order a food delivery and finding that all delivery slots were filled for an endless number of weeks. Before the pandemic only 4% of Canadians shopped for groceries on-line this has now jumped to 22% and grocery subscription and meal kit services are also booming.

Grocery stores have had to adapt rapidly on multiple fronts, expanding on-line shopping infrastructure, monitoring inventory more closely, and increasing health and safety measures for shoppers and employees.  They are also having to fend of competition from new players in the direct to consumer market from restaurants, food delivery services, farmers markets and individual markets.  Grocery store business could be forever changed by the change in customer preferences which may grow stronger rather than decline during and when the pandemic is over.

From an article by Rebecca Tucker

Charging PST on Online Sales

By Randall Orser | On-line sales , Sales Taxes , Small Business

If you are a business that does online sales have to collect and remit taxes just the same as if you had a bricks and mortar business.  This means that you will need to charge and remit other province's sales taxes and different rules in different provinces can make this process complicated.  

Businesses need to register as a provincial sales tax vendor with each province where they will be doing business. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done get around this additional paperwork and bookkeeping, except for to limit the provinces where you ship goods, for example if businesses only sell products to consumers in their own province or if they only sell non-taxable goods and services.

Provincial sales taxes vary by province. There is also the goods and services tax and some provinces use the harmonized sales tax which combines the GST with their provincial sales tax.   For businesses selling only within their own province or territory they only need to follow the rules for their province, but for those selling to other provinces they must charge taxes according to the rules in those provinces.  

  • In BC if the business specifically targets customers in BC through advertising or similar means that they are targeting customers in that province and they are therefore expected to collect and remit PST.
  • In Manitoba out of province businesses must register as a vendor if they solicit sales, the orders originate, the goods are used or goods are shipped to that province.
  • In Saskatchewan all businesses selling online order to customers there are expected to collect and remit PST.
  • In Quebec out of province businesses must register before selling goods to residents there.
  • In Alberta, Nunavut and the Yukon there is no PST.
  • New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario charge the HST.
  • BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan charge the GST and a PST.


From an article by Susan Ward

What are the Penalties for Filing a Late GST/HST Return?

By Randall Orser | Business , Retail , Sales Taxes

Businesses that have registered to charge and collect GST must file a return to the CRA at intervals determined by the CRA. Depending upon your business income you may have to file monthly, quarterly or annually. If a business misses it's filing deadline it may be subject to penalties.

The CRA says that if a business has a zero balance GST account or it is owed a refund from the CRA then it will not get any late penalties.  If a business does owe a balance and files a late return then late penalties will be applied.  GST penalties are 1% of the balance owed, plus the result of the calculation of 25% of the 1% x the number of months the return is overdue to a maximum of 12 months.

For example:   1% of $20,000  = $200

                        (25% of $200) x  6 (months)    = $300

                        $300 + $200 = $500 total penalties

In addition the CRA will charge interest on any overdue amount equal to the 90 day Treasury bill rate plus 4%.  This also applies if you have been instructed to make instalment payments and you do not pay by the due date.

There are other penalties that you can incur by not filing a GST return on time.  If you receive a demand to file a GST return and do not do so then a penalty of $250 will be charged.  If you fail to file electronically when required to do so you will be charged a penalty of $100 for the first offence and $250 for each instance afterwards.

What happens if you file an incorrect return?

  • If you make a genuine mistake for example forgetting to include an Input Tax Credit you can include it on a subsequent return.  You have up to four years to claim a missing ITC
  • For other errors such as incorrectly reporting the amounts of GST collected or collectible you will have to request an adjustment of the reporting period affected and this can usually be done through your My Business Account
  • If you have deliberately incorrectly reported and wish to correct this at a future date you use the CRA voluntary disclosure program and pay amounts owed and hopefully avoid penalties and prosecution, although filing through this program does not automatically mean that your request will be granted.
  • If you file an inaccurate return you can be subject to a penalty of 5% of the amount plus 1% per month of the difference between the amount you initially reported and the actual amount up to a maximum of 10%.

It is worth also noting that you cannot claim any income tax deduction for penalties or interest that you may have to pay if you file your GST report late. 

From an article by Susan Ward

Which Goods and Services are GST Exempt or Zero Rated?

By Randall Orser | Business , Retail , Sales Taxes

If think that your new business may have to charge GST/HST you need to know the difference between zero rated and exempt goods and services because not all businesses need to charge this tax.

For the customer there is no difference between GST exempt and zero rated goods as in both cases they are not charged the tax.  For businesses there is a difference in how the two classes of goods and services have to be entered onto the GST return.  Normally when completing the return a business can claim input tax credits to recover the GST paid or owed on business purchases and expenses.  

  • For zero rated goods a business does not charge or collect GST but can still claim ITC's on it's GST return.
  • For exempt goods and services the tax is not charged or collected and Input Tax Credits cannot be claimed.

Which goods and services are zero rated?

  • Basic groceries but this does not include items not necessary for dietary needs such as snack foods, liquor, soda and candy.
  • Most fishery products except those used for bait.
  • Farm livestock sold for human consumption, GST is charged on livestock sales not used for human consumption such as horses, dogs, and cats.  Animals such as rabbits and goats will be zero rated if sold for consumption or GST will be charged if they are sold as pets.
  • Farm equipment such as tractors, seeders, planters and processing equipment.
  • Prescription drugs and dispensing fees are zero rated however drugs sold over the counter are subject to GST.  
  • Medical devices such as artificial teeth, walkers, wheelchairs, canes, eyeglasses, contact lenses and orthotics and others are zero rated.
  • Freight transportation services involving the movement of goods from Canada to other countries and vice versa.

Which good and services are exempt?

  • Used residential housing, GST is only charged on new or substantially renovated housing.
  • Residential rental accommodation if equal to or greater than one month duration.
  • Music Lessons
  • Medical and dental services except for procedures deemed to be non healthcare-related such medical reports, disability certificates and cosmetic surgery to enhance someone's appearance.
  • Issuing insurance policies 
  • Educational services leading to a certificate or diploma, upgrade certification or tutoring services for a designated school curriculum.
  • Most goods and services provided by a charity.
  • Financial services such as fees for bank accounts.
  • Legal aid services
  • Day care services for children aged 14 or younger
  • Food and beverages in an educational institution

Some goods and services that are exempt from the federal GST are not exempt at the provincial level in provinces that charge a provincial sales tax so they are subject to the tax.  As each province is different businesses should refer to the exemption list for the province in which they are doing business.  For British Columbia check  PST Exemptions.

From an article by Susan Ward

Tips for Retailers – How to Increase Your Sales the Week After Christmas

By Randall Orser | Employees , holiday season , Marketing , marketing strategy , Retail , Small Business

The week between Christmas and New Year can be a great opportunity to increase the profitability of your business.  If you do it right, you can net more from this week than any other week in the year.  Here are some tips to help you to have a profitable week.

Creating a Customer Experience – More than likely you will have customers in your store to spend those gift cards that they got for Christmas.  Many will be regulars but many of them will be visiting your store for the first time and you need to WOW them so that they will come back.  Think of little extras that you can offer to enhance their experience.  

Christmas is over, so freshen up your store.  Take down Christmas decorations and promotional signage and change the music.  For those customers who came in before Christmas a change of atmosphere may energize them to buy.

Sales and Incentives – Have your markdowns ready for the 26th of December.  The faster that you move this merchandise the sooner you can freshen up your store.  Some retailers believe in having a January sale instead, but this means that you will not be ordering new stock until February and your store will not have a new look until March.  Stuff bags with coupons to give customers incentives to return.

Full Price Merchandising -  Part of freshening up the store is putting new full priced merchandise out on the floor.  As many people are using gift cards, they might be more likely to buy new full priced items rather than those left over from the holiday season, giving you a greater profit margin.

Reduce your spending on Advertising – As it is after Christmas everyone is having sales. So instead of spending money on advertising use that money to motivate your staff to give exceptional customer service or use it on incentives for your customers.

Refocusing Staff -  The focus has changed from selling stuff, to keeping it sold.  Instead of having staff just concentrate on returns encourage them to focus on converting returns into exchanges and new sales.  Train them on suggestive selling techniques to use when they are processing a return. If you sell a lot of gift cards before Christmas ready your staff to sell prospective new customers.  This is also a good time to update your customer data base and to encourage customers to join your loyalty program.

Show Appreciation to Your Staff – They have just gone through the most hectic four weeks of the year and you are now asking them to do more.  This is a good time to show them that you care, coffee runs, catered lunches or even the services of a masseuse are ways to show your appreciation for their efforts. 

Remember most customers are just coasting until New Year and they don’t expect to find much in stores except sales on leftover Christmas items.  If you have made your target it can be tempting to sit back as well, but this is a great opportunity to create a good impression with customers by giving them new and interesting things to buy.