Canadian consumers demand a balanced experience of physical and digital retail offerings


Toronto, July 28, 2021 - In the last 16 months, we’ve witnessed forward-thinking retailers reinvent their business models and unearth new opportunities in response to the rapidly changing behaviours of Canadian consumers. In November 2020, Canadian findings from PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey (Pulse 1) showed that consumers are continuing to shop online in greater numbers than ever before. They cite price, convenience, and health and safety concerns as the predominant reasons. Of those surveyed in the first Pulse, 52 per cent agree they’re making less frequent but bigger basket shops, putting a pause on the previously popular micro trips. When we shift to Pulse 2 (March 2021), half of the respondents (50 per cent) continue to make less frequent but bigger basket shops, and 42 per cent are shopping more with discount retailers. The data also highlights shopping preferences, 69 per cent of respondents prefer in-store shopping experiences and 56 per cent shop online through a personal computer (PC) at least monthly.

Given the varying preferences, combined with the constant changes in social protocols, retailers can benefit from creating a seamless omnichannel customer experience. Retailers will need to consider how they’re building out their e-commerce strategy and platform, while also providing  shoppers with a safe, unified experience across touchpoints.

“We’re seeing a lot of reinvestments by organizations in order to further support their e-commerce and digital capabilities. As Canada starts to open-up again and the economy begins to rebound, we’re going to see a subsequent increase in physical foot traffic,” said Myles Gooding, National Consumer Markets Leader & Global Consumer Markets Advisory Leader at PwC Canada. “To meet the demands of this new consumer persona, retailers who want to compete in a post-pandemic world will need to deliver a balance of digital and physical offerings, including tailored communications and ensuring product fulfillment that meets their expectations. The most significant learning from PwC’s Consumer Insights report is that Canadians want great in-store experiences again, and when it is the right time from a health and safety perspective, they will be actively seeking them.”

With a significant amount of stimulus lingering in the accounts of Canadian consumers, and pent-up demand due to the lack of retail/life experiences (events), Canadian consumers will likely come back in a significant way. The shift in consumer behaviours requires retailers to re-strategize for the much-anticipated boom in consumer spending in a post-pandemic world. In order to meet the demand and remain in the playing field, retailers can benefit from revolutionizing and creating a cohesive physical and digital retail experience that meets the needs of the new consumer persona, while seizing the opportunities of a post-COVID-19 world. Retailers can place a priority on investing in technologies that address supply chain disruptions and that enable automation and further upskilling their workforce to create seamless virtual and in-person customer service. As more in-store options become available, retailers will need to find ways to maintain an online experience that is appealing.

The data from Pulse 2 shows that when respondents were asked about scenarios in a post-pandemic world, there is a balanced optimism about activities and spending. For example, while 53 per cent of Canadian respondents expect to eat/drink in restaurants and bars in the next six months, that number jumps to 63 per cent when looking post-pandemic. We also see similar significant differences when we look at the likelihood to travel domestically in the next six months versus post-pandemic (22 per cent vs. 51 per cent) and attend mass social events (21 per cent vs. 40 per cent).

Canadian consumers also have a position on retailers with sustainable offerings. Although the number of eco-conscious Canadian consumers has risen during the pandemic, the associated shopping behaviour has not. Canadian consumers lag when compared to their global peers in every category that they were asked about. For Canadian consumers, price is the issue. Nearly 50 per cent of respondents feel sustainable products are priced too high. They also indicate that they are loyal to local businesses and feel the urgency to support them, 48 per cent say they’re actively shopping more with local merchants. Implementing a sustainable strategy will be essential for retailers. Building a clear value proposition that can be ingrained in a culture and that is experienced both internally by employees, and externally by consumers can be of impact, especially to those who care about an organizations’ values.

This year, Canadian consumers indicate the top two out of five characteristics that drive brand loyalty are reliability and loyalty programs, at 60 per cent and 52 per cent respectively. Globally, reliability also tops the list, however beyond that there’s nothing a majority of global consumers seek. For Canadian retailers selling goods to Canadians, loyalty programs are a clear area of opportunity. Cultivating an experience that welcomes consumers safely inside physical spaces, while ensuring digital shopping environments remain attractive, can be a challenge given the shifting behaviours in retail. Additionally, 46 per cent of Canadian shoppers also rank customer service as a top-five characteristic that enables loyalty. More than one in every two Canadians (52%) consider loyalty programs to be significant to their spending.

Canadian retailers have a significant opportunity to revisit their customer experience offerings as the nation gradually transitions into a post-pandemic world. Sustained strategies that meet the Canadian consumer persona of the future must be informed by an understanding of current consumer sentiments, which is a balance between digital and physical encounters.

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Anuja Kale-Agarwal

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