We’ve all heard the news: an 85-store outlet mall is being built on leased Edmonton International Airport property and will be ready for shoppers by fall 2016. Ivanhoé Cambridge is the same Canadian real-estate company that built Calgary’s CrossIron Mills outlet mall—although at 350 000 square feet, The Outlet Collection at EIA will be a fraction of CrossIron’s 1.178 million square feet.
Just what is so alluring about an outlet mall that developers believe will draw in flight-weary travellers and bargain-hungry Albertans from a city already saturated with shopping? It probably has something to do with this area’s young demographic, the profitable times for Canada’s retail sector and the power of perception.
According to the 2011 national census, 46 percent of Edmonton’s population is in the 25 to 54 age bracket. These are regarded as the prime years for earning an income and spending money. The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation states that compared to the rest of large Canadian cities, Edmonton has the fastest-growing economy and the fourth highest GDP of all cities at 3.9 percent or $53.981 billion. This all leads to Edmontonians having the highest disposable income in Canada.
So does it matter that another shopping centre home to many outlet stores—South Common—is situated only about 20 kilometres from the future home of The Outlet Collection at EIA? Esthetically, maybe, if the sight of too many shops dotting the landscape leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But with regards to Canada’s retail market, the latest Retail Report of Canada states that since 2007, 57 million square feet of leasable shopping-centre space has been added across Canada, and it’s not sitting vacant. American retailers like J Crew and Marshalls opening in Canada and the expansion of larger stores like Simons and Walmart has led to lease rates rising and mall vacancies declining. Sure, some stores are downsizing as more customers turn to online shopping, but, overall, the retail scene in Canada has been having some productive years.
But what about the shoppers? Statistics about GDP and retail expansion don’t make the average person ready to hit the mall and spend their supposed lofty disposable income. Just because this city has money doesn’t mean people will necessarily spend it because there’s a new mall in town. This is where perception becomes such a handy tool in the hands of brand marketers.
Many people equate outlet shopping to saving money on their favourite brands regardless of disputed quality and actual savings, according to American journalist Ellen Ruppel Shell, who wrote the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture in 2009. She says the distance of outlet malls from the centre of a city lends itself to the perception there must be deals so far away and that taking the time to make the drive influences people to buy more.
Regardless of your beliefs about outlet shopping, this new mall is another indication that Edmonton is continuing to grow—if not upwards, then outwards.