By Jessica Edwards:
Canadian Shoppers are here, and have been here for quite sometime. It's something locals have become accustomed to, living in this bi-national region. But how often do we think past that moment of inconvenience when looking for a parking spot?
These visitors have more impact than simply getting in our way. Visit Buffalo Niagara
(VBN) is in the early stages of figuring out precisely the kind of weight these shoppers carry, in regards to our local economy. To get some real numbers and statistics, VBN hired Toronto based marketing company Longwoods International. Over 600 Canadian shoppers, who claimed to have been shopping in WNY within the last three years completed surveys. The data collected provides more insight as to how this demographic spends their time in the Queen City.
The research reveals some surprising (and not so surprising) facts. Canadians are on a track. That track includes the local malls, airport, and casino. The majority of their time and money is spent at the malls. That might seem like old news, however, this is just the beginning of the conversation.
Although Buffalo beat out all other regions (including Toronto and Montreal) for best "shopping experience" and overall "excellent value for the money", the City wasn't even close to being top choice for most "exciting", "unique", and "a place I would really enjoy visiting". These inconsistencies show that Buffalo is viewed as a one-trick pony. The sole purpose of visiting is to shop retail... get on the track until it loops back around to the border.
Often times, these trips are planned last minute. The missing link here is the ability to see Buffalo as more than just a shopping mecca. VBN and others have the task of establishing Buffalo as a "fun place to shop"; in hopes that the region can excite Canadian shoppers enough to create the desire to stay longer and explore other attributes of the city.
A popular misconception the research addresses is that the majority of these shoppers are lower income families from Southern Ontario, who come for the deep discounts. To the contrary, it is actually a more affluent population coming from in and around Toronto. The shoppers are middle to upper class with disposable incomes rather than bargain shoppers. To reiterate this point, Michael Erdman (V.P. of Longwoods Int'l) said, "You know, we have a Walmart too..." So, cheap goods and sales aren't the driving force.
Since the study, there have been changes made to entice north of the border visitors. A new logo of an American and Canadian flag is on the VBN website to welcome Canadians (learn more
). More aggressive 'wooing' for trade shows in Canada to consider hosting in Buffalo. Advertising in Toronto newspapers and print ads. But, the most promising outcome so far has been securing a space at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. VBN is located downtown, and their "foot traffic" for all of 2011 was "11, 166 walk-ins." Compare that to the airport store, which at the end of this past October, "foot traffic" was estimated at "25, 333 walk-ins." It has been open for just under 6 months.
Canadian shoppers choose freely to make the routine trip to Buffalo. This is an opportunity to increase an outside source of revenue contributing to our economy. Becoming more accommodating will most likely result in their trips being more frequent, lasting longer, and perhaps even wanting to take an early exit off that track into the many pocket neighborhoods. There is so much potential and profit waiting to be tapped. With proper attention, efforts, and strategy this good situation can turn great. Maybe, the first step in all of this is to realize that a filled parking lot with the blue and white Ontario plates isn't such a bad thing after all...