Martin C. Barry
The head of the province’s largest association of retail merchants issued a stark warning to cities last week, saying they could end up becoming the biggest losers in the growing shift to online sales when property and business tax revenues bottom out.
Tax revenue losses
“As I’ve said before and as I say everywhere I go, the first losers in the shift towards the web if they don’t join forces is going to be the cities,” said Léopold Turgeon, president of the Conseil québécois du commerce de détail.
Speaking at the City of Laval’s first annual Forum Innovation Commerce at the Château Royal on Feb. 15, Turgeon pointed out that “the less there are businesses, the less there will be fiscal revenue” for municipal governments.
Go with e-commerce
While most people are aware by now of the impact that web and online marketing are having on the real-world retail landscape, this is the first year that the City of Laval decided to organize a half-day seminar dealing specifically with the problem.
“The new wave in the future is really e-commerce,” Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis, who gave the opening address, said in an interview with the Laval News.
Get on the web
“In order to succeed, they will have to become increasingly aware of the e-commerce concept, get on the web and to do business on the web as well,” he added. “It’s fine to have a retail store, but you have to start thinking at the same time beyond those borders and go on the web.”
According to De Cotis, there are 38,000 small and medium-size businesses in Laval, “and we want to encourage them all to have an online presence,” he said. De Cotis was asked by the Laval News about the extent to which online retailing is affecting the retail presence in Laval.
Small business suffers
“It’s not only affecting Laval, it’s also affecting the greater Montreal region,” he said. “The Amazons and the Alibabas of this world are taking, like it or not, business away from small business entrepreneurs whether it’s in Laval or Montreal and so forth. And, you know, when there are empty businesses there is less employment. And that’s why we want to encourage as much as possible our businesses to stay in business and employ people while being successful at what they’re doing.”
In his speech, De Cotis noted that retailing and wholesaling today account for a quarter of all jobs in the Laval region. Last year, that number equalled 38,292 jobs. Many of these are in key locations throughout Laval, such as the Carrefour Laval, the Centre Laval or any of the eight other major retail malls on the territory. In addition, there are many hundreds of other retail hubs all over Laval.
The need to go digital
In 2016, there were 1,669 retail businesses in Laval, he continued, and 830 wholesale enterprises. He pointed out that from this perspective, Laval is increasingly a magnet for businesses of this type seeking to set up in proximity to the Montreal region’s international airport (which is only a short distance from Laval).
“As deputy mayor and being responsible for economic dossiers with the City of Laval, I can only insist on the importance, even the urgency, of doing digital,” said De Cotis. “The numbers demonstrate it clearly.”
Consumers headed online
While studies suggest that the retail sector is holding up on its own, De Cotis noted that they also indicate that more and more consumers are buying online, and these are local economic losses which are going to the advantage of major online retailers such as Amazon and Alibaba.
“There is no question of giving up,” he continued. “To the contrary, we must face up to this challenge with confidence and by rallying four forces. We are convinced that the capacity to adapt and to innovate by the players involved in commerce in Laval and their partners will make all the difference.”