MONTREAL - Consumers are expected to buy Internet-connected TVs, tablet computers and smartphones this holiday season — enough gadgets that the country's biggest electronics chains will add thousands of seasonal workers to meet the demand.
Future Shop says it will increase its workforce by 40 per cent between November and January by adding 4,000 more jobs in Canada.
Meanwhile, sister company Best Buy Canada will increase its staff by nearly 30 per cent by adding more 2,000 jobs.
"The staff increases are about the same as last year and many will stay on as full-time employees," said Annalisa King, chief financial officer and senior vice-president of Best Buy Canada and Future Shop.
Consumers are starting to move away from flat screen televisions to so-called smart TVs and they're flocking to tablets like Apple's iPad instead of small, netbook computers, King said in an interview from Burnaby, B.C.
Future Shop has 149 stores across Canada and is based in the Vancouver suburb. The company generated more than $5 billion in revenues in 2008, the last year figures are fully available.
Best Buy Canada, also based in Burnaby, has grown rapidly and expanded across Canada as well.
King noted the highly competitive consumer electronics market can shift quickly depending on new technology and consumer tastes.
"There's a big shift in the mix of our products and things that were big three years ago were not as big, and things that did not exist three years ago are huge," she said.
Smartphones are still a hot and growing category with consumers moving to touchscreen and 3D-capable phones, said King.
"We see the advance of touchscreen phones, the advance of 3D phones, the ability to really have flexibility in your hand being a huge thing for consumers."
Consumers have been voting with their fingers since Apple first introduced the iPhone in 2007, rapidly driving up the popularity of touchscreen smartphones. Tech firm ABI Research is predicting 97 per cent of all smartphones will have touchscreens by 2016.
As for televisions, the market for flatscreens is maturing and smart TVs that let consumers do everything from make a phone call to check social media site Facebook are expected to be popular, King said.
"The new TVs that are coming out are fantastically diversified," she said. "There's Wi-Fi TV, you can Skype, you can rent movies through a digital download as well as have a 3D option, which is a broad enough differentiation from the old TVs that people are seeing much more value in that."
King said Canadian consumers are still confident but they're being "choosy" and are looking for deals.
"But at the same time they're going to make trade offs and buy the things they want to buy and buy the things they see value in."
Retail analyst John Williams said Canadian confidence is generally holding up unlike in the United States, where it's dipping.
"For the consumer electronics, the big issue is what new games, what new gizmos and gadgets are coming out," said Williams, senior partner at J.C. Williams Group Ltd. in Toronto.
"It's very dependent on having something to replace the big screen TV, the newest Apple or RIM or whatever product is there."
Williams said there doesn't have to be a popular "it" gadget in highly competitive consumer electronics industry.
"But it sure helps," he said.
In the United States, parent Best Buy Co. said its second-quarter profit fell 30 per cent as consumers hit the pause button on buying electronics, particularly TVs and smartphones with the lack of a major smartphone introduction hurting results.
The two companies are both owned by Best Buy Co. Inc., the American consumer electronics giant (NYSE:BBY) that controls nearly 20 per cent of the American market.
The U.S. company has 1,150 stores and also operates in Mexico, China and the United Kingdom.
King also says that Blu-ray DVD players, movies, gaming consoles, single-serving coffee makers and other small appliances are expected to do well with consumers.
Will there be a must-have, "it" product this season?
"I would say it's yet to be determined," King said.