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Gift cards rule retail as B.C.’s mall shops work around supply chain issues

Shopping anywhere is a boutique experience right now, says Victoria mall general manager
The Bay Centre in downtown Victoria set a record with gift card sales in November. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

This year’s holiday season boutique shopping spree will end with a surge of Boxing Day shoppers spending gift cards, predicts one B.C. mall manager.

In the wake of supply chain issues and health protocols, gift cards are king, Darlene Hollstien explained. In her role as general manager at the Bay Centre in downtown Victoria, she’s heard a variety of positions from retailers. But what she’s seen with her own eyes is a bump in traffic and sales in some cases. Some of that, she attributed to the spread of Black Friday well beyond one day.

“People have started really early this year and I think it’s because we were told there were supply chain issues,” Hollstien said.

A survey by Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), ahead of the 2021 holiday shopping season, showed consumers plan to spend more than last year and physical retail “continues to persevere.”

Canadians expect to increase their individual holiday spending by 29 per cent with an average outlay of $1,420 – still 11 per cent below 2019 levels. Canadians plan to spend 59 per cent of holiday shopping time in-store, PwC found.

READ ALSO: Supply chain challenges squeeze small businesses

That jives with what Hollstien saw in November when the Bay Centre and its shops hit a historic note – they sold the most gift cards ever in a month. The high gift card sales likely served as a great workaround for the occasional barren shelf. The supply impacts have varied, Hollstien said, with some shop owners reporting little impact while a neighbour’s shelves are on the lean side.

“It’s a boutique shopping experience right now. I never have a problem finding something to purchase,” she said with a laugh.

If a shopper spots something they like, it’s best to snap that up. There’s no waiting around. She also suggested hitting the shops often as goods trickle in.

“I suspect we’ll see Christmas trees in March and winter coats by July, but there is product.”

READ ALSO: B.C. storm disrupts supply chain, could have lasting impacts on economy

She also recommends buying local, as in locally produced. At the Bay Centre, the Market Collective, now in its second year boasts work from 130 different local designers and makers.

While the shopping vibe isn’t quite to 2019 numbers, it’s headed in the right direction, with some excitement exuding from retailers.

“It’s progressively getting better and better,” she said.

Hollstein expects the record-breaking gift card sales will maintain the usual busiest day of the year – Boxing Day.

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Shopping remains brisk through December at the Bay Centre in downtown Victoria. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

Longtime journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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