Canadian department store Zellers is hoping for a comeback next year, a decade after the discount chain closed most of its stores.
According to Hudson’s Bay Co., Zellers will launch a new e-commerce website in early 2023 and expand its brick-and-mortar presence in select Hudson’s Bay department stores across the country.
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The company says the relaunched Zellers will “offer a digital shopping experience that speaks to the brand’s nostalgia.”
In an email to CBC News, a Hudson’s Bay spokesman did not confirm where the new Zellers stores will be located.
Initial inventory will include housewares, furniture and toys, with apparel to be introduced later in the year. According to the press release, the company also plans to launch a private label.
Lawsuit against Zellers trademark pending
Zellers’ return comes as rising inflation drives consumers to discount stores in search of lower prices. It follows Tuesday’s announcement from Hudson’s Bay that outdoor gear retailer MEC will be opening stores at three Bay department store locations this fall.
It also comes amid an ongoing legal battle over a Quebec family’s use of the Zellers trademark.
The Moniz family is behind various trademark and business registrations including Zellers Inc., Zellers Convenience Store Inc. and Zellers Restaurant Inc.
In a lawsuit filed last fall, HBC accused the Moniz family of trademark infringement, impairment of goodwill and passing off — the misrepresentation of goods.
Bruce Winder, a Toronto-based retail analyst, said he believes the Zellers’ resurgence is in part a response to the lawsuit.
“They need to show they still care about the brand, and there’s no better way to do that than by actually opening a few stores,” Winder said.
Mixed reactions from consumers and trade strategists
CBC News heard a range of responses from consumers with good – and not so good – memories of shopping at Zellers. Some are hoping for the return of the in-store restaurant and the brand’s mascot, Zeddy.
Others expressed hope that Zellers could compete with big stores like Walmart and Giant Tiger.
“I always thought Zellers was the place to go for everyone, and I was very disappointed when he left,” said Diane, a longtime resident of Toronto’s Richmond Hill neighborhood.
“And then we had Target. It didn’t meet Zellers standards. I would love it if it comes back. I think it would serve a lot of people with different incomes.”
Others recalled poor customer service experiences, a lack of advertised products, and understaffed stores. Some expressed concern that the store would not stock locally made products.
Mark Satov, a strategy consultant at Toronto-based Satov Consultants who has worked with Zellers in the past, is cautiously optimistic about the brand’s revitalization.
“You probably have to spend a little less to revitalize this brand than to create a new brand,” he said.
Satov added that he doesn’t think the brand has negative connotations with consumers – but it wasn’t a successful business, which is why it was sold, he said.
“I think it’s a good move. I’m not sure if this will be a home run, but we’ll see.”
Others have lower expectations. While the move is intended to capitalize on consumer nostalgia for the Zellers brand, many will associate the company with a negative shopping experience, according to Craig Patterson, the founder and publisher of retail media site Retail Insider.
“I think people are just happy to get something that was in their life in the past, and that could be almost anything. But I’m not sure this move by Zellers will be positive for Hudson’s Bay in the long run,” Patterson said. “It really remains to be seen how it will be executed.”
“I think it’s going to be an uphill struggle in developing this new brand and creating these stores and stores and this entire new e-commerce division for the Hudson Bay Company, which in turn is an expansion for this company.”
Most stores closed by 2013
The Zellers department store was founded in 1931 and taken over by HBC in 1978.
It operated as the discount section of its flagship department stores in Hudson’s Bay with the slogan “Where Lowest Price is the Law”.
The business peaked in the late 1990s with about 350 locations before losing ground to major competitors like Walmart.
In 2011, HBC announced plans to sell the majority of its remaining Zellers leases to Target Corp. for sale and to close most shops by 2013.
Through 2020, the retailer kept a handful of Zellers locations open as liquidation sites.
The company opened a pop-up Zellers store in Hudson’s Bay department stores in Burlington, Ontario and Anjou, Que in 2021.