The revival of Zellers by The Hudson’s Bay Company is clearly a strategy to leverage nostalgia as a marketing tool, but in a competitive retail market, it may be a risky move, says a University of Guelph marketing and branding researcher.  

Prof. Rob McLean is a marketing professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, where he researches brand identity development and marketing management and communications in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.  

Prof. Rob McLean poses for a headshot.
Prof. Rob McLean

McLean says that by setting up Zellers pop-up shops within The Bay stores across Canada, the company is trying to lure in customers who remember the Zellers brand with fondness, where “the lowest price is the law.” But it comes with risks. 

“Zellers was always a Canadian brand, although less overtly Canadian than The Bay itself. By placing these two identities under one roof, they can build something unique, but it is a delicate opportunity,” says McLean.  

“Nostalgia can be a powerful tool when a retailer sells Canadiana to Canadians, but it can also feel shallow and opportunistic.” 

At the same time, combining the brands is an opportunity to differentiate the retail experience from other foreign-based discount retailers, such as Walmart, Giant Tiger or Amazon, which can’t compete with The Bay’s Canadian roots and history. 

Many other retailers have seen success with the store-in-a-store model because it offers the convenience of a bundled shopping experience. McLean believes The Bay is counting on customers revisiting Zellers to take a fresh look at The Bay as well. 

“They hope to attract price-conscious nostalgia seekers who will browse offerings throughout The Bay on their way to and from the Zellers section,” he says. “Impulse shoppers may rediscover The Bay by visiting the store for the first time in years and it may shift shopping habits for those who moved to online shopping in recent years.” 

The move will provide shoppers two unique experiences while maximizing space and building foot traffic for The Bay.  

“Time will tell if this is more than a short-term nostalgia trip,” says McLean. 

McLean is available for interviews. 

Prof. Rob McLean