Why Canadian Tire’s IT strategy may become a retail best practice

The company is betting big on technology under its new CEO. Learn how to define the term ‘phygital’

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Canadian Tire digital strategy phygital

I had less than 20 minutes to stop by a Canadian Tire store a few months ago to pick up a pair of giant foam fingers for my kids to take to a Blue Jays game, and I had no idea where to find them. As I raced around frantically, I noticed a large kiosk which offered me a quick, touch-screen way to locate the exact aisle number on the floor below.

I should add here that this was by no means one of Canadian Tire’s larger locations. For most other retails, the space would probably not be considered big enough to bother with such a kiosk, but it’s keeping that blend physical and digital experiences top of mind that could influence the entire retail sector’s approach to customer experiences.

As the Globe and Mail reported last month, Canadian Tire’s new CEO, Michael Medline, has made enhancing the company’s e-commerce and other digital initiatives a higher priority:

“I believe we are making strides, but our current online presence is disappointing and not up to our standards yet,” he said at an investor conference to outline the company’s three-year “on offence” growth plan. “In fact, it reflects poorly on our brands.” 

For a closer look at how this could play out, watch this recent interview from ITBusiness.ca featuring Rex Lee, Canadian Tire’s vice-president of digital technology, who has been using the term “phygital” to emphasize how closely the online and offline experiences need to be coordinated.

“In a physical store, you have brand, you have community, you have trust, you have instant gratification,” he says. “On the digital side, there’s huge benefits in terms of speed, access to information and so forth. When you bring those things together, you can do some very unique things.”

He’s right, of course. The challenge is, many other retailers are approaching digital opportunities as a sort of “phase two” because of their brick-and-mortar heritage. I walk into plenty of stores that have been around less than a tenth of Canadian Tire’s history, but they have little more than a Web site and a Facebook page to connect outside their walls. There are also online-only merchants that gain some traction, only to realize that there are benefits to meeting customers face-to-face occasionally, which is when they begin experimenting with pop-up stores.

Whether retailers embrace the term ‘phygital’ or not, isn’t it time we all recognized that brick-and-mortar may have as bright a future as an e-commerce presence? Canadian Tire’s IT strategy may not be a product it’s selling, but I suspect the retailers that thrive will be the ones who buy into it.
photo credit: m.gifford via photopin cc

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