Ontario retailers feel effects of BC closures

by Emily Atkins

Even as roads and rail connections between the Port of Vancouver and the rest of the country gradually begin to reopen, retailers in the rest of the country are expecting delays as a result of the shutdowns caused by massive flooding in British Columbia.

And with the holiday shopping season in full swing, consumers may experience shortages of certain sought-after products. Anything inbound by container to the Port of Vancouver will likely be delayed, and that means everything from books, to clothing to alcoholic beverages.

Contingency plans

For its part, the logistics team at the LCBO, Ontario’s liquor agency, was looking at options to reroute inbound cargo. Nick Nanos, the LCBO’s chief supply chain officer, said they were looking at contingencies like diverting containers to Seattle or Prince Rupert.

Nanos noted that while there may be over the road alternatives, with the cold weather, temperature control is critical for beverage alcohol.

“At this time of year it’s mostly cargo coming in from New Zealand and Australia,” he said. “But it’s the holidays, so people will be looking for product.”

LCBO is also looking for nearshoring opportunities. “Luckily here in Ontario we make very good wines and spirits,” he said, which will make the challenge easier. He also said they are putting in orders further in advance to allow some elasticity in the supply chain.

The situation is also evolving for independent bookseller Books & Company in Picton, Ontario. Owner David Sweet said a major distributor, Raincoast Books, in Vancouver, did not know when they would be able to start shipping again. He too said airfreight would be too expensive to even consider.

Some of those delayed books and puzzles are special orders, many of which would be holiday gifts. But the rest are bound for his store shelves which may go empty as a result of the B.C. disaster. Sweet wasn’t able to estimate the possible losses he will experience, but noted that he’s not alone, as local distributors were warning retailers to order quickly because they were also experiencing a surge in orders.

Early shoppers

Supply chain issues around the world this year, not just in British Columbia, mean retail availability of certain items may be tighter than in years past, particularly in late November and December.

“Consumers that plan ahead and shop early will increase their chances of finding the products and brands they want for the holiday season. And, with expected labour shortages, shopping early will allow consumers to avoid long line-ups or shipping/delivery delays,” said Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada.

According to a recent survey conducted for the Retail Council, Canadians are planning to begin shopping earlier and more are planning to take advantage of holiday sales and product availability. Product (availability, shipping time, delivery times) and product selection issues experienced in 2020 are driving an earlier planned start to holiday shopping. As a result, the number planning to shop before November rose to 30 percent this year versus 23 percent in 2020.