In 2021, the retail trade sector comprised 5.2% of the Canadian economy, making it one of the 10 largest sectors. Although the pandemic accelerated digital adoption across sectors, the trend of digitalization in retail existed long before COVID-19. Much of the transition toward intelligent retail is driven by consumers, who increasingly expect more from retailers. Many have become desensitized to experiences that would have once been considered exceptional (like extensive product reviews or same-day delivery), thanks in part to the proliferation of convenient platforms such as Amazon and Uber. Today, consumers do not simply expect high-quality products at a fair price; they are looking for unique experiences, seamless and convenient shopping, and brands that align with their values. 

The global pandemic and accompanying health restrictions further reinforced trends already afoot. As some brick-and-mortar storefronts shuttered, others adopted in-store technological advancements, while others moved largely online; in all cases, digitalization was further entrenched in the retail sector. With this change came new innovations in areas such as payments, logistics, and digital marketing. For many retailers, COVID-19 was a decisive event that pushed them to invest even further in digital infrastructure and strategies to retain and attract customers and market share. 

Digitalization and intelligent retail must remain top priorities for organizations in the volatile new climate; according to a recent study by Deloitte, at least two-thirds of Canadian retail executives plan to invest significantly in omnichannel, modernize supply chains, and enhance data privacy and security. Although more than half of Canadian organizations are making major investments in expanding their digital capabilities, Canadian businesses must accelerate digital adoption to compete with key players in other jurisdictions like the US and China.

However, the process of digitalization in Canadian retail is not a one-size-fits-all model; according to survey respondents and interviewees in this study, the sector can be seen as overly traditional, with the ecosystem comprising a relatively limited group of competitors. Advancing this trajectory requires a concerted effort on further digitalization and a talent pipeline to support this change. According to employers, talent pipelines must be bolstered to produce a higher volume of digitally skilled workers needed to turn Canadian retail organizations into world leaders.

This report explores these and other key trends in the Canadian intelligent retail space. It investigates the many ways that organizations are adopting or can adopt digital technologies in various areas of their businesses, and highlights the changing Canadian intelligent retail workforce, including experiences working in retail, talent needs and barriers, and drivers and incentives for digital adoption.


To cite this report:

Herron, C., and Toor, M., Striving to Be Smarter: The Evolution of Intelligent Retail in Canada. Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), August 2022. Ottawa, Canada.