The holiday season is the busiest time of the year for Canadian retailers. And to keep making shoppers' wishes come true over the next few years, retailers will need to find new ways of creating experiences and capturing value for the next generation of consumers. This article is copyright 2018 The Best Customer Guide.

To stay relevant for the future consumer, and to shape their evolution, retailers need to anticipate a range of probable, possible and plausible futures. Establishing a competitive advantage for tomorrow starts by addressing these five imperatives today:

  1. Challenge every assumption. Retailers need to rapidly experiment and scale the ideas that succeed as fast changing consumer needs turn heritage into baggage.
  2. Choose their tribe. Future consumers will be much more tribal in their loyalty. Retailers must refocus their purpose on the stakeholders who matter most to their business.
  3. Win every micro-moment. Retailers must be in constant competition for superfluid consumers. They can shape demand by continually adapting what they offer, when they offer it and at what price by using data to tailor each individual consumer journey.
  4. Replace brand promise with transparent impact. Today, retailers try to engage consumers by promising them a unique benefit. In the future, they'll need to deliver measurable outcomes and not let consumers take it on trust.
  5. Master the ecosystem. The challenge for leaders today is to anticipate what ecosystems might emerge, identify those they want to create and decide where in the ecosystem they want to play. The focus should be exclusively on where and how they can add value.

"Disruption follows a timeline that is impossible to predict. But the direction is clear, buying habits are changing," said Daniel Baer, EY Canada Consumer Products and Retail Assurance Leader. "Companies can avoid making the mistakes of those once-strong, now gone, retailers who failed to evolve by planning for the future consumer now."

Canadian retailers are expected to have a solid holiday season for sales, although the early onslaught of winter in Eastern Canada, the rotating strikes at Canada Post, recent economic headlines, and a promotional retail environment will ensure that the holiday season is not as strong as it otherwise might have been.

Retailers cannot be lulled into a false sense of security by the relatively strong retail environment of the last several years, and need to respond to the new consumer over the near term. Consumers are focused on traditional holiday purchases including clothing, electronics, books and music - but how and where they buy continues to evolve. The "how" is increasingly through mobile device and smart assistants. The "where" is online and from non-traditional sources, such as second-hand marketplaces and direct from consumer brands manufacturers.

"We've seen consumers change the way they shop, discover products and ultimately buy due to the influence of new technologies, innovative business models and disruptive brands," said Ted Salter, EY Canada Consumer Products and Retail Leader. "Retailers can't rest on the peak of holiday shopping to carry them into the future. Consumer-facing industries will soon change beyond recognition."