Why Walmart is Winning in Canada

By January 2016, retail market watchers in Canada are predicting that the country will be home to nearly 400 Walmart stores…and exactly zero Target stores. Ronn Torossian explains this shift and what it means for big box retail public relations.

First, the shift. Many U.S based retailers have a tough time gaining ground in Canada, but Sam Walton’s brand is moving forward with plans to add 29 more supercenter locations, just one year after adding 35 the prior year. Meanwhile, Target has chosen to succumb to years of bad returns, announcing plans to close 133 stores by June of this year—all of its current Canadian locations. Insult to injury here, Walmart is planning to slide right into many of those abandoned locations, investing $270 million and adding 5,000 new jobs in the process.

But Target is not alone. Sears, Best Buy and Big Lots are also struggling, and each of these massive big box retailers has closed stores in Canada as well. But why? What’s happening in Canada that is playing out differently in the United States? While it’s true that Sears is struggling in both countries, Best Buy and Big Lots seem to be doing well. Why is Target so … off target in Canada?

The most basic explanation comes down to this. All consumer success comes down to choice. Customers must, repeatedly, choose your brand over another. The reasons could be endless. But those reasons must be addressed. It might be too late for Target in Canada, but not quite for Best Buy…and it might not be too late for you or any other brand that might be struggling to gain market share against a rival. Whatever the “special circumstances,” the bottom line is that, to grow, you need to answer two WHY questions.

One, why do the people who choose you, choose you? Two, why do those who go elsewhere make that choice? These questions are about more than stealing customers from the competition. In some cases, particularly for specialty stores and businesses looking for a specific clientele, the answer may simply be: “We are not trying to get those customers.” The action item then is twofold: get more of your current customer type and go after others that might fit but don’t currently choose you.

The second issue is sometimes more difficult to address, because it requires change. If you are doing something to artificially limit your customer base, you have to change. Some brands fear change or they just try to avoid it. That’s dangerous, particularly when well-placed public relations campaigns can often make all the difference.