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Interior shots at Holt Renfrew's new menswear store in Toronto, Ontario, Monday, September 29, 2014.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In advance of the busy holiday shopping period, Holt Renfrew & Co. has finally introduced an e-commerce site.

The luxury retailer says this month it launched an online shopping site offering more than 7,000 cosmetics and fragrance items under such brands as Christian Louboutin and Tom Ford. It's a move that comes as tony retail rivals stock a wider array online, including apparel and footwear. Holt's says it will roll out more categories online in 2016.

Canada's dominant luxury fashion chain, Toronto-based Holt's is one of the last major retailers here to launch a significant online shopping presence. But it's facing stiff competition from new brick-and-mortar foreign rivals whose e-commerce operations are already well established. Nordstrom Inc. of Seattle opened its first three stores in Canada over the past year or so, while Saks Fifth Avenue, owned by Canadian-based Hudson's Bay Co., is introducing its first stores on this side of the border early next year.

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Luxury men's clothier Harry Rosen has been running online shopping for years, as has fashion and sporting goods purveyor Sporting Life and Quebec-based fashion specialist La Maison Simons.

HBC, for its part, is spending heavily on its e-commerce, borrowing from the playbook of Saks, which HBC acquired in late 2013. Now Holt's is responding to competitive pressures with its e-commerce entry.

"This is a much needed start on Holt Renfrew's part," said Doug Stephens, founder of consultancy Retail Prophet. "Being available online is simply becoming table stakes – even for luxury retailers and brands."

Amazon.ca is also becoming an increasingly aggressive player in Canada, Mr. Stephens said. And U.S. research suggests that online shoppers often have higher-than-average incomes, he added.

A recent survey conducted by Shullman Research found that 83 per cent of consumers who live in households earning $500,000 or more say that Amazon.com is better than other stores, he noted.

"Luxury and exclusivity should not be confused with being old-fashioned and obscure," Mr. Stephens said.

Online sales growth in Canada is expected to outpace that of the overall retail market in the next five years, market researcher Forrester has forecast. E-commerce sales will rise at a compound annual rate of 12.3 per cent in that period, reaching $39.9-billion by 2019, compared with "a measly" 2.6 per cent for overall retail, it says.

Wendy Evans of Evans & Co. Consultants Inc. said Holt's is making a good move by entering the beauty category first because of its high margins, simpler operations than apparel and likely financial support from suppliers. In the upcoming holiday season "not to be able to shop online would certainly be a detriment to" Holt's, she said. She noted that cosmetics rivals have boosted their online selling, including Shoppers Drug Mart's beauty boutique and Sephora, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.

Holt's has been rushing to prepare for the foreign retail assault, expanding its stores and offerings as part of a $300-million investment by the company that is owned by the Galen Weston family, which also is a major shareholder of grocer Loblaw Cos. Ltd. (which owns Shoppers Drug Mart).

HoltRenfrew.com offers customers editorial content with two online magazines, Holts Muse and Holts Men. They include interviews with designers, fashion photo shoots and celebrity profiles, the company said.

Canadian retailers have grappled with large U.S.-owned e-commerce sites increasing their presence in this country. They include Amazon.ca, eBay.ca and Walmart.ca.

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