In Challenging Times, Canada’s Largest Tech Retailer Learns and Gets Better
With nearly 400 stores from coast to coast, The Source has long been a trusted neighbourhood brand that connects Canadians with the latest in consumer electronics, small business technology solutions, and mobile and internet services – and now, a new level of support to help Canadians during a global pandemic.
The Source quickly responded and adapted to the new reality imposed by COVID-19. Its first duty was to ensure that Canadians’ consumer electronics needs were met while maintaining the safety of employees and customers alike. But to that, management added the duty of emerging from the time of Coronavirus better than before.
This was due in large part to the leadership of the company and the willingness of its associates to step up and take on an unprecedented challenge. Andy Wright assumed the role of president in January, which meant he had just weeks to get his bearings before contending with the unimaginable.
“I spent the first two weeks looking at all the great new products coming to the CE [consumer electronics] space,” he says, “and eight weeks later making the decision to close our stores temporarily to protect our employees and our customers. It was certainly a whirlwind, but I would say that, in many respects, I will look back on this year, not wishing that I would have another one like it… but knowing that I learned at a much faster rate.”
Wright and the team at The Source pivoted when necessary – from intensive learning to crisis management – and made the adjustments that would ensure employees and customers were safe, while the business carried on operating from its e-commerce platform. This included repositioning inventory and ensuring that the logistics and distribution infrastructure was in place to address changes in demand.
Throughout, The Source maintained a 100 percent employment rate during the forced closure of its stores. From Wright’s perspective, “We wanted to take care of the team and ensure we had all the right talent in place, both during and post-COVID, so that we could deliver on our present and future business goals.”
While stores remained closed, the retailer’s e-commerce platform experienced Black Friday-level transaction volumes. What’s most impressive is that the company could support such a significant increase in demand.
Wright explains there were many operational considerations that supported this acceleration in ecommerce activity: “Do you have warehouse capacity to pick and pack at the speed that you need to deliver to customers? Do you have the supply chain and the carrier relationships to deliver within a meaningful timeframe to customers across Canada? All of these things and the relationships we had fostered with our partners really stood up in that time.”
A position of strength
Certainly, COVID-19 brought a shift in demand. Customers sought products that fostered a productive work-at-home environment – like laptops, webcams, headsets, larger monitors. But The Source also recognized that customers needed help with education tools – as students were now learning from home – as well as at-home entertainment. “We took inspiration from our customers and pivoted our marketing to campaigns that demonstrated this new reality in a series of “tech tips” – educational segments demonstrating how to make your home office more efficient, how to entertain as a family using smart home devices – bringing to life the helpful advice our customers rely on from us,” says Wright. Thanks to this approach, The Source was able to remain top of mind for consumers.
According to Wright, The Source’s fairly seamless transition to lockdown was not just good luck. “I feel incredibly fortunate to be in the categories that we’re in but also really impressed and excited about how we’ve executed,” he says. The company’s thoughtful process of establishing a new approach to suit the current reality in its marketing efforts was undoubtedly a factor.
Being the local tech destination came with a responsibility to help customers across Canada stay connected and productive. The Source team took this commitment to heart. Through it all, The Source continues to identify ways to improve the customer experience. Wright notes, “We are trying to meet customers’ needs and ensure they have flexibility in the way they buy,” thus leading to the introduction of PayBright, which is a new financing tool that brings The Source’s customers greater flexibility when making purchases.
A new, more robust chat feature has also been introduced to provide customers access to an associate who can support them on their buying journey. Whether a customer chooses to shop online or in store, the same level of service and support is offered.
The outcome of responding so quickly to COVID-19 was that The Source was also one of the first retailers to return to operation. To reopen safely, stores adopted strictly prescribed safety and cleaning protocols, controlled access in-store, and mandated personal protective equipment including Plexiglas barriers and strategically placed hand sanitizer units.
The retailer also introduced a greater number of Point of Sale terminals in each store to reduce lines, shorten wait times, and ensure physical distancing. As Wright explains, “We can actually get through our lines as fast as we ever could because the same number of cash registers are open, or more in some cases.”
The Source has been sensitive to the fact that consumers have varying degrees of risk tolerance and that reflects in their shopping habits. “It really comes down to what customers feel comfortable doing,” says Wright of the options available to them. Customers can opt for buying online with pickup in store, in-store delivery, or home shipping options.
Associates are doing all they can to ensure that employee and customer safety is foremost, and that the customer experience is similar to that of pre-COVID-19 shopping. Wright says it’s about “Getting the right solutions in the right people’s hands at the right price,” – and not stopping there. “We pride ourselves on how we help customers connect their devices to some of the best networks,” he says, which helps them get the most out of their devices.
The Source continues to leverage its strategic partnership with Bell and Virgin brands, as Wright puts it, to “really make sure that we’re bundling and providing Canadians access to solutions that work from a tech perspective but also seamlessly connect to the network.”
A season of change
Having maintained Black Friday volumes while stores were shuttered, The Source is well prepared for the fourth quarter and highly anticipated holiday shopping, but believes that this year, holiday shopping may look a little different.
Wright predicts that the fourth quarter will be characterized by more elongated promotional periods instead of a single blowout shopping event, with offers extended into multiple days to limit crowding and keep the shopping experience safe.
But there is still a high degree of consumer excitement driven by multiple product introductions in the consumer electronics space. Hot product trends include new models of tablets and laptops – so that customers can continue staying productive – but also headphones from brands like Bose or new smart home devices from brands like Google. The gaming category has generated a ton of excitement this year as well. The highly anticipated consoles, including the new PlayStation and Xbox offerings, both sold out within hours of pre-order. There are several new accessories and software titles on the way to keep the momentum going – from all three gaming brands, including Nintendo, which has long been a customer favourite.
Wright remarks that there is also a notable buzz around Apple’s new suite of products, and the many recent product introductions from brands like Samsung. “These are certainly categories that you work hard to keep in stock to satisfy customer demand, so we work really closely on trying to forecast what kind of supply we need.”
COVID-19 has certainly thrown a wrench into the workings of the economy and retailers, but out of this challenge, The Source has unearthed opportunities to improve and grow. In fact, some of the changes implemented are most likely here to stay as the company improves buy-flow, the in-store experience and overall efficiency in its operations.
The Source has not only kept existing customers satisfied; it has also found a way to earn new ones in the process, as Wright notes. “It was a really interesting time,” says Wright, “but it also did wonders for our team and what they could accomplish and really what the art of the possible was.”
In trying times, The Source has again evolved to remain relevant and supportive of its customers’ changing needs.