Canadian Tire puts the wrench in customers’ hands

Tony Maraschiello    October 30, 2017

It’s one of Canada’s largest – and oldest – retailers. And for nearly a century, Canadian Tire used good old fashioned advertising methods to reach millions of loyal customers – weekly newspaper flyers, TV ads and the annual catalog were promotional staples for the retail giant.

Today, the company still pushes its products through these time-tested methods. But through a multi-million dollar investment in technology, it is augmenting the way it develops, promotes and sells everything from snowshoes to truck tires to pet food. 

Social media is playing an increasingly bigger role in the company’s product development reboot. Take its Tested for Life in Canada program. Canadian Tire has put the product development process online and in the hands of close to 15,000 Canadians who have signed up to put the retailer’s merchandise through the ringer. The reviewers test products at home and openly share their reviews and experiences with Canadian Tire, customers, and with other testers, through various social media channels.

By developing a unique social media component to its bread-and-butter product development process, Canadian Tire is putting the fate of dozens of popular products – and perhaps its reputation – directly into the hands of everyday Canadians.

Risky business?

For close to 100 years, you could say Canadian Tire has built a loyal following of Canadian shoppers one weekly flyer at a time.

For most of its history, the iconic bricks-and-mortar retailer relied heavily on traditional marketing and advertising methods – paper flyers, annual catalog, television advertising (who can forget the famous Albert commercial?) – to promote its thousands of products to Canadians from coast and coast. The strategy worked wonders for the perennial earnings powerhouse.

But with the increasing use of social media by consumers to promote, discuss or even trash a product or service, Canadian Tire decided to use customer sentiment to sway the development of its products.

First introduced in 2015, the Tested for Life in Canada campaign asks Canadians to test products and share their results publicly through various social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The testers even have a members-only digital social hub on which they are encouraged to discuss the products they have tested and offer more feedback to the company.

While some neutral observers may raise a Spockian eyebrow at the reviews and allege that they are scrubbed by the company before being posted online, one “tester” claims he has never had any pushback from the retailer on his reviews – good, bad or ugly.

“There is no direction from Canadian Tire saying ‘Thou shalt love our products’,” Eric St-Jean, a Tested for Life participant, told the Financial Post.

Canadian Tire says the testers are not compensated for their feedback, but they do get to keep any products they evaluate. And all of the tested products are marked in store and online as such, with a “Tested For Life in Canada” badge and links to the testers’ online feedback.

It’s a rather bold departure for a company that in the past based its product selection process on Category Business Managers, who would scour the world for products to stock the company’s nearly 1,700 retail and gasoline outlets.

The new social media strategy shows the retailer takes its customer input seriously.

Once the product has been put through its paces, testers assign it a star rating out of five. Products that receive 4.5 stars or above receive the “Tested for Life in Canada badge,” while those that receive lower scores, do not. After testing, feedback is shared with the buyer and the product vendor, providing an opportunity to improve or enhance product features and selection as required.

For example, the company developed a new drill bit, the Maximum 7 Edge Titanium Coated Drill Bit Set, and put it through the Tested for Life process. It passed with flying colours.

Not all products get the thumbs up, though, which perhaps speaks to the authenticity of the process. The pop-up Coleman Instant Tent went through the tester program – which concluded the tent needed to improve its waterproofing to decrease internal moisture. Canadian Tire took that feedback and worked directly with the vendor to make the necessary improvements, adding an awning to ward off rain.

The Windcatcher Airbed was widened by four centimetres and its air valve strengthened after tester feedback.

The success of the Tested for Life program is also starting to rub off on other social media tools at Canadian Tire. Through the Facebook at Work app, employees at Canadian Tire Financial Services started a group to share photos of their pets. That caught the attention of the manager responsible for buying pet supplies who started using the pet-friendly employees as a focus group, gathering reactions to new products that could potentially be added to store shelves.

Lessons for Others

In putting product reviews in the hands of its customers, Canadian Tire is opening the door to a new product development feedback process that can be both credible and authentic if done right.

And while the strategy is not replacing thoughtful and expert product sourcing and selection by its Category Business Managers, the “Tire” is showing that there is room to augment its current product development process honed over nearly 100 years with a new way to engage customers.

Through it Tested for Life online program, Canadian Tire has proven that it is open for business when it comes to multiple opinions, approaches and viewpoints. You can’t get more Canadian than that.

Organization: Canadian Tire
Industry: Retail
Name of Organization Contact: Joscelyn Dosanjh, Manager, Corporate Communications

Authored by: Tony Maraschiello

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