Malls are buzzing this holiday season, and Rideau Centre and St. Laurent are seeing the difference

st laurent shopping centre

Canadian shoppers are headed to the mall this holiday season and at least two major Ottawa shopping centres are seeing an uptick in traffic and sales. 

According to local retail analyst Bruce Winder, malls are buzzing this season. 

“What I’m seeing, which is actually a good thing, is that malls are quite busy,” he said. “The old adage of getting up at six in the morning and waiting in line for two hours, that’s faded. But I do see some good traffic in big malls by people who are more the gen Z and millennial demographic. There’s good traffic in stores, especially as it relates to apparel and items that are targeting younger people.”

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At the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, general manager Amy Rozario said shoppers are looking to recapture their love for holiday excursions to the mall. 

“People are still looking for the full experience,” she said. “This year, we opened a sip-and-shop, so that people can take a break, sit down and have a cocktail or hot chocolate. We’re finding a lot of people are interested in that. I think they’re still looking for an entertainment aspect to complement their shopping experience.”

According to Rozario, traffic has jumped this season compared to the past few years. On Black Friday, traffic rose 11 per cent compared to the previous year, with numbers rising nine per cent for the rest of the Black Friday weekend. 

“It’s really nice to see the parking lot almost full, which is something we would have seen pre-COVID,” she said. “It’s nice to see (for) the brick-and-mortar retail sector. People still want to try on clothes, they want to feel the material. They aren’t as interested in that online experience as they were during COVID.”

The CF Rideau Centre has also already started to see an increase in holiday traffic compared to past years, as shoppers eye deals and promotions. 

“Shoppers have kind of started early this year,” general manager Brian O’Hoski told OBJ. “They’re definitely looking for the best deal possible and getting those cost savings, but we’re certainly seeing an uptick in traffic. So it’s important we’re providing the best experience we can.”

According to O’Hoski, sales have been steadily growing over the past year, a trend he hopes will continue as numbers reach pre-pandemic levels. 

“Obviously being a downtown, urban location, we have different challenges,” he said. “Work-from-home has reduced some of our foot traffic, but spending per shopper is way up. The trips are more meaningful now. Everything’s kind of returned to normal where we’re beating pre-pandemic all around.”

The Rideau Centre has also brought in a slate of new retailers in the past few months, which O’Hoski said has been a boost for the entire mall. 

He said clothing retailer Uniqlo, which opened in the summer, has done “tremendously well” in its first few months, while the recently opened toy and hobby store Imaginaire has “cornered a unique market” that’s drawing customers in. 

“It’s been kind of the engine that drives this retail facility and it’s worked out well,” he said. “We want to continue to offer that differentiated retail and I think customers are responding to the new stuff. It’s unique and it makes it desirable.”

Part of the traffic boost comes from Canadians’ hunger for holiday deals, as cost of living concerns keep budgets slim. 

“That 39 per cent of Canadians are focusing on saving money is consistent with last year, but higher than in 2021 when inflation was not a top concern,” said JLL’s Canada Holiday Shopping Survey Report for 2023.

According to the report, shopping centres are the top destination for gift buying. The report found that 95 per cent of shoppers plan to visit a mall at least once this season, an increase from 85 per cent last year. 

Longer trips have also become more popular as health and safety concerns wane. JLL found that the average trip is expected to increase to 65 minutes, compared to 50 minutes in 2021. 

“Shopping centres are the top shopping method for the 2023 holiday season, surpassing other forms of physical retail and online shopping,” the JLL report said. “This year, 71 per cent of Canadian shoppers plan to shop at a physical store located in a shopping centre. Buying from an internet-only store such as Amazon is a close second, indicated by 64 per cent of shoppers.”

Mall offerings like food courts, restaurants and movie theatres are also major draws, with 60 per cent of shoppers intending to stop for food or drinks during their shopping excursions.

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