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Highly respected strategist

By Jim Gordon and Leeta Liepins

Published 1:21 PST, Fri November 24, 2023

Our City Tonight (OCT) recently sat down with David Ian Gray (DIG), Retail Strategic Advisor, Founder of DIG360 and INBOW Holdings. He is a national advisor to retail executives and a recognized expert on retail and consumer trends, landing in Rethink Retail’s Global Top 100. 

OCT: As we get closer to Christmas, which is a huge retail time of the year, can you please describe the shifts in shopping right now and what consumer shopping is like in Canada in 2023 plus what this current holiday season might bring.

DIG: The start of the year was basically a continuation of last year and what I mean to say is, nobody was too excited about buying things but they were still going out and buying things, dining out and just doing it all. 

In June I would say we started hearing through our network, and stats Canada has backed up what we were hearing, that there’s been a real lockdown on household spending. People are budgeting, and they’re doing one of two things. They’re either putting off purchases or trading things off. What that means is the consumer will likely now more than ever before, buy the private label brands as opposed to a higher priced national brand.

OCT: Currently what are retailers afraid of?

DIG: The market has sort of a toxic combination of high debt, high interest rates for people who are carrying debt. High income earners in Vancouver  and across Canada are kind of skating through this a little bit unscathed. For the masses it is the higher interest rates that we are now being told will be higher for a longer period of time. We are starting to feel that, and we are nervous about how long we’re going to feel that. 

We’re also getting price inflation in a lot of categories like dining out but there are other categories as well and this is kind of a toxic soup. Adding onto that, is just the sort of malaise in the media about recession.

It’s going to be a little while before retail bounces back and retail is worried about that from a consumer point of view. They are also being hit with other things. We’ve never seen theft like it is today and it’s not just petty theft but proving to be organized crime. We are hearing these stories filtering through and it is such a major issue right now for instance, Target in the U.S. is closing stores in their hotbed cities where it’s very problematic. San Francisco is a good example of being in trouble and under duress. So that’s going on plus we have this never-ending challenge to hire staff in the retail market.

OCT: As a retail expert, how can you provide assistance or help in this regard?

DIG: We work more with the chain retailers but in my heart of hearts I really want to help the really good independent retailers. Ultimately this makes our communities what they are.

OCT: Do you find yourself sitting down with the owners and discussing solutions?

DIG: It tends to be more senior level and it’s not a quick fix solution. What we are really trying to achieve, on both levels, independent and executive chains, is to pause and see if we are running into persistent problems and to determine what has to be different.

If we start to understand what has to change and it seems everything is changing at once, like my other analogy, we throw it all into a soup, as there are ways to navigate that. We help with structure, framework, and guidance. We never tell anyone how to run their business, but what we do say is here is what we’ve seen out there and if you can be clear on where you’re headed, we can quietly help you behind the scenes and then you can create your own path going forward. That’s what we do.

OCT: It’s important to ask you what you would see the impact is on our communities with these current trends?

DIG: There are so many ripple effects that come out of retail, and I know that we saw this during the pandemic in terms of what stayed open and how we went about serving people. At the end of the day, everyone’s got an opinion on shopping and on the stores they shopped in and often it is negative. The one thing we’ve seen is that stores are incredibly vital to our communities. What has come out of the pandemic and now post-pandemic, we realize we do need them. What we’re seeing in our community is the challenge with the street-front stores. In Vancouver, we’ve seen Gastown going through major challenges yet West 4th, for example, is more vibrant than ever.

We do need stores that are well run and well staffed. That’s part of our community. We need restaurants because they are also a place of employment. That is extremely important. Consumers in essence vote with their wallets and the concern right now is we legitimately want to protect our household expenses. This may mean we are cutting some corners on what we are buying. To watch the video in full go to

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