Why Are Asian Retailers Focused on Canada?

Speculation that Alibaba Group will be opening an e-commerce processing centre in Richmond, BC ramped up following the May 2018 announcement by their North American general manager Steve Wang that the Chinese e-commerce giant is seeking to lease real estate for a Vancouver office.

Indianapolis - Circa August 2018: Alibaba App icon. Alibaba Group is an e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology conglomerate II

The City of Richmond, in suburban Vancouver is hoping to become an international trade hub and local councillor, Chak Au believes working with the Chinese e-commerce giant, whose current market value stands at $542 billion, will help realize that.

This is just the latest in a recent influx of Asian retailers setting up operations in Canada who are filling in some of the gaps left by the departure of retail giants Sears and Target from the Canadian scene. This phenomenon is tied at least in part to a big demographic shift, specifically the high proportion of population born outside of Canada. In this case, Asian immigrants, who have different attitudes and behaviours, including brand familiarity and loyalty and retail shopping patterns.

Distribution of Foreign-born Population
By 2036, more than 1 in 2 foreign-born people will be from Asia.

In early June, Uniqlo, the Japanese casual wear designer, manufacturer, and retailer announced it will open four new stores in Canada in the fall of 2018.  This will bring the total to nine stores in Canada. The Japanese company entered the Canadian market in the fall of 2016, with the opening of its 33,400 square foot Canadian flagship store at CF Toronto Eaton Centre, followed shortly by another store of similar size at Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

Uniqlo store

According to Uniqlo, the Canadian expansion could see as many as 100 stores open over the next several years—good news for mall landlords across the country. In addition to their brick-and-mortar presence, Uniqlo just announced that it is finally bringing their online shopping to Canada. The online store (including its own mobile app) will be shipping and operating across the country, including Quebec.


Another Asian retail newcomer with big plans is Miniso – a Chinese variety retailer, which positions itself as a ‘Japanese lifestyle brand’ and has been called the Asian Dollarama. This value-priced retailer, specializing in household and consumer goods including cosmetics, stationery, toys, and kitchenware, opened its first Canadian store in Vancouver in April 2018, and has plans to eventually operate as many as 500 stores in Canada.  They foresee opening as many as 30 to 50 stores monthly in the next 12 months. This aligns with company’s global strategy, as it has reached cooperation agreements with 40 countries and regions since its establishment in 2013.  It has plans to open stores at a pace 80 to 100 stores monthly, worldwide.


Another Japanese brand, Muji, is making a big wave in British Colombia. In addition to its stores in Toronto (Atrium, Yorkdale, Markville) and Mississauga (Square One), Muji opened its first store in suburban Vancouver (Metropolis at Metrotown) last year.  This store has already expanded by 50% in size and complements its flagship store on Vancouver’s Robson Street (14,500 square feet) opened last fall, and a 6,355 square foot store at CF Richmond Centre.

In July, Muji announced a 6,800 square foot store at Scarborough Town Centre, as it plans to operate between 15 and 20 stores in Canada by 2020, through a mix of malls and main street locations. A recent announcement unveils the expansion of Muji’s first Canadian store located at 20 Dundas Street West (Atrium) in Toronto. The plans are to significantly increase the size (from 4,373 sq. ft. to 19,125 sq. ft.) and street presence, in order to turn the store into a Canadian flagship for Muji.

Other Asian entrants to the Canadian retail landscape include:

  • Oomomo: an authentic Japanese variety store, with its new store at West Edmonton Mall, and more to come, focusing mainly on Alberta;
  • Mujosh: a Hong Kong-based eyewear brand, founded in 2010, with over 700 stores mainly throughout Asia;
  • H Mart: an Asian-American supermarket chain that recently opened six stores, mainly catering to a young, affluent Asian population living in upscale condominium buildings along the Yonge Street corridor, from downtown to Richmond Hill; and
  • Galleria: a Toronto-based Korean grocery store, also catering to the same demographic cohort as the H Mart, with similar store locations.


It is clearly a time of change in the Canadian retail landscape.  Whether driven by the aggressive growth plans of these new Asian retailers who have global ambitions or the changing demographics of the country, Canada is on the radar of many new Asian stores.  From Uniqlo and Muji to Miniso and Mujosh; expect to see more of these operators setting up shop across Canada.


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