The Bay reinvents itself with… Zellers? Why Hudson’s Bay is resurrecting the beloved discount store

“Where the lowest price is the law.”

In its heyday, Zellers was one of Canadian shoppers’ first choices for discount clothing and appliances. The department store was born in the late 1920s, at the dawn of American mass consumerism, and flourished into a 350-store retail giant over the next several decades.

But like its competitors, Sears Canada, Brooks Brothers, Kmart Canada and Eaton’s, Zellers suffered a rapid collapse at the turn of the century as consumers embraced America’s nascent retailers with a prescient knack for e-commerce. While Walmart and Amazon expanded, Zellers declined, liquidating its iconic but ailing department store until the final location closed in 2012.

Now, roughly a decade later, Hudson’s Bay Co., which has owned the Zellers brand since the late ’70s, plans to revive the defunct retailer, relying on name recognition and nostalgia to draw crowds.

The company announced Wednesday that it will open Zellers locations inside its Bay department store starting early next year. HBC did not specify how many Zellers locations will open, but said it will give the retailer a new e-commerce website and expand its physical presence in major cities across the country.

The reintroduction of Zellers “will deliver a digital-first shopping journey that taps into the nostalgia of the brand Canadians know and love, while introducing a refreshed identity and a unique and exciting product assortment,” the company said.

According to the company’s press release, a revamped Zellers will sell housewares and home décor, furniture, toys, and clothing.

Because right now?

Hudson Bay, the victim of a declining business model, is in the midst of a transformation. Late last summer, the 351-year-old business announced it would split its retail location in two, separating its department stores from its website in a last-ditch effort to increase its e-commerce presence.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder says the company is vying for consumer attention at a time when it is struggling to stay afloat.

The number of department store locations in the US has decreased by nearly 27% since 2013, and is expected to decline another 25% by 2025. In 2020 alone, a record number of department stores went bankrupt in the span of months .

“HBC already owns the brand, and they have a lot of commercial space. They’re seeing if they can get attention with this play,” Winder said.

But reintroducing Zellers probably won’t become a major element of Bay’s reinvention, Winder said. Consumers who once shopped for low-cost items at Zellers now have a variety of other options to choose from. Those looking for cheap coffee makers can find them on Amazon, Walmart, Dollarama, or Facebook Marketplace.

“Many Canadians think favorably of Zellers. It brings back childhood memories of shopping there with your parents. But once you get past that, what will a new Zellers do for you? Anything I ever needed from Zellers I can now buy elsewhere,” said Winder.

“It will attract a little bit of interest, but it won’t turn into a big business opportunity.”

Most likely, Winder said, HBC’s revival of Zellers is part of a move to protect the trademark.

Last year, the company filed a lawsuit against a Quebec family that opened a store under the name “Zellers.”

The Moniz family, which has recently filed several trademark applications for names such as Zellers Inc., Zellers Convenience Store Inc. and Zellers Restaurant Inc., argued that they had the right to use the Zellers name after HBC failed to renew the trademark. .

But in a lawsuit statement filed last fall, HBC accused the Moniz family of trademark infringement in an attempt to gain exclusive rights to the Zellers brand.

“It’s likely that a large part of what HBC is doing now is to defend its trademark,” Winder said.

“For Zellers to really say, ‘This is ours,’ he has to show that he’s using it.”

With archives from The Canadian Press


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