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Zellers is back, but will it last? Professor has doubts

Zellers set up shop inside The Bay at the Pen Centre yesterday, but a University of Guelph professor questions whether it will be sustainable long term
A Zellers store.

There’s something uniquely Canadian about a Zellers popping up inside The Bay.

But will national pride and nostalgia be enough to draw in customers and make it sustainable? Rob McLean, a marketing professor at the University of Guelph, isn’t so sure.

“It’s interesting,” McLean said of the brand's resurgence.

“Maybe that national pride will drive them but I wouldn't bank my business on it. I didn’t anticipate much nostalgia but there has been a lot of it. Even students at the university have memories of their stores. In the context of The Bay and Zellers, they’re the two most Canadian retail entities and that pulls at people’s heartstrings.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that Zellers was a go-to store for affordable shopping.

It also wasn’t that long ago that the store was closing its doors, for what it thought was for good. The Hudson’s Bay Company shut down nearly all the Zellers storefronts by 2013.

Known for items “from lifestyle to home and almost everything in between” and delivering “the best deals possible,” it’s a business plan that the company will once again try to deploy and it could be successful given the current economic situation many are facing, McLean says.

“The current economic climate may be helping them,” he said.

“I think the one thing with Zellers is it has to do with family products. Moments in people’s lives were wrapped around the brand. People would go there after getting married to get their first set of dishes or towels.”

One of the problems with having low price items is there tends to not be much profit in them, meaning a store has to move it’s inventory quickly in order to be successful, McLean says.

The other issue, and potentially more problematic for the brand, is that over the past decade while Zellers has been out of the market, people’s shopping habits have changed.

“When Zellers went away, Dollarama wasn’t really a thing,” McLean said.

“Walmart has also taken over. People's habits when it comes to buying low price items have gone elsewhere. The other part of it is e-commerce, if people are shopping online for lower prices they’re likely already doing it through a place like Amazon.”

Despite some of the issues that could hinder the relaunch's success, it should at the very least increase foot traffic through The Bay, McLean says.

“There will be a strategic focus on their part looking at working class families that can feel good about the products they’re buying. Short term success, it’s good for The Bay and builds efficiency within their store. If it works as a subsection it could be a big success for both, it’s like building two stores at once.”

Regardless of the success rate, McLean is interested in seeing how the two market their products and try to unite Canadians.

“I think the timing is strategic, as well,” he said.

“I'm curious to see what they're going to do around Canada Day. I feel like they're going to roll out a Canadian themed ad campaign that blends the two as Canada’s superstore. There could be a big advertising push in May and June to cement that.”