December 6, 2019

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Canada Post strike taking a big bite out of small business

As the rhetoric heats up in Ottawa over exactly how many Canada Post trailers are sitting undelivered, countless small business owners across the country are waiting helplessly for postal service to be fully restored with their livelihoods at stake.

Maureen Lyons, a stay-at-home mom with four children and a health disability, is one of them.

Maureen Lyons runs a toy shipping business out of her home and relies exclusively on Canada Post.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Maureen Lyons runs a toy shipping business out of her home and relies exclusively on Canada Post.

Her Winnipeg E-Bay business, Mo McQueen and Sons, selling Disney Pixar Cars and Lego collectibles, uses Canada Post exclusively for shipping her product and November and December sales provide crucial income for her family.

The news on Wednesday that the Trudeau government has given notice that it's prepared to introduce back to work legislation provided her with some hope.

"This is decimating retail at this all-important critical holiday shopping season." - John Graham the Manitoba/Saskatchewan director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada

"It's a step in the right direction," Lyons said.

She's already trying to figure out which bills she'll delay paying as orders ground to halt a week ago when Canada Post said it might take a whole month to clear up the backlog.

But if the system can return to full service soon, it might be enough for her to make up some of the lost sales.

"If by the end of the week, by some miracle, things could resume or at least the shopping public’s faith in the system of delivery could be restored, I think it would help a great deal," she said.

Lyons is among the thousands of small business operators who, because they are not large enough to broker discounts with other courier services, must rely on Canada Post.

E-Bay sellers across the country have suffered with the uncertainty that buyers might not get their deliveries by Christmas.

"We are as grassroots as it gets," she said. "I don't make a ton of money as it is. It is so frustrating. We're the little guys. And I'm not just a seller... I'm also trying to find things for my own children for Christmas that I can't get."

All sorts of grief is already rippling through the retail sector as parcel delivery is being disrupted with rotating strikes for the past five weeks.

John Graham the Manitoba/Saskatchewan director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, said his organization went so far as to reach out directly to the prime minister's office imploring the government to take action.

"This is decimating retail at this all-important critical holiday shopping season," he said.

Regardless of how many Canada Post trailers are sitting undelivered, Graham said the number will increase by 50 per cent this weekend if normal on-line buying habits occur.

"Complicating that is the fact that about two-thirds of Canadians' on-line shopping shipments go through Canada Post," he said. "For a lot of retail businesses, these next six weeks are critical to ensuring long term sustainability."

Over the past number of years many consumers have graduated to an omni-channel shopping experience where they do some in-store and some on-line shopping often with the same retailer.

The Canada Post service disruption might mean more shoppers visit bricks and mortar stores this year.

Peter Havens, the general manager of Polo Park mall, said it's too early to tell if there's a change in the traffic flow.

"I haven't seen anything particular yet other than seasonal increases," he said. "This time of the year always starts ramping up for us at Polo Park anyway. To say whether or not it is directly tied to the postal strike is too hard to know."

Large national retailers are doing whatever they can to mitigate the inconvenience to shoppers. For instance, a Best Buy Canada official said it is anticipating more demand for its reserve and pick-up service where customers can reserve a product on-line and pick up and pay for it the same day at their local Best Buy store.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Martin Cash

Martin Cash
Reporter

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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