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A Staples store display window is pictured in New York in this file photo.

Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

Staples Canada has closed 15 of its 331 stores in this country as the office supplies retailer feels the brunt of more business shifting online.

The closings are part of a broader move by U.S. parent Staples Inc. to shut as much as 12 per cent of roughly 1,800 North American stores and downsize others as it struggles to improve its bottom line in a fast-changing market. The company declined to provide a list of stores that were closing and said consumers should check the store locator on its website instead.

The moves follow each of its key rivals in Canada – Grand & Toy and Office Depot – having shut all its stores here over the past few years, although they still run e-commerce businesses in this country.

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"We're the last man standing, in terms of a retail presence," said Michael Cukoff, director of real estate at Staples Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Retailers such as Staples are taking on cyber powerhouses Amazon.com Inc. and others that are stealing away business in response to consumers' growing appetite to shop online. Electronics specialist Best Buy Co. Inc. and bookseller Indigo Books & Music Inc. also have closed stores.

At the same time, the retailers are expanding the array of goods they offer online in a bid to bolster their so-called endless aisle and lure customers. Staples.ca now carries party supplies and home decor items while BestBuy.ca stocks makeup and baby products.

In the U.S., where Office Depot Inc. also is closing stores, Staples is shutting even more outlets than in Canada, feeling the pressures of even more competition, Mr. Cukoff said. The company had not previously broken out how many stores it was closing in Canada.

Staples of Framingham, Mass., which is suffering from declining financial results, said in March it planned to close as many as 225 stores in North America through 2015, or about 12 per cent of the total number, and reduce costs by up to $500 million (U.S.)

"Trends in our North American retail stores remain weak," chief executive officer Ron Sargent told analysts in August. "We're not satisfied with our results here."

He said he is focused on improving shopper traffic to stores and taking "aggressive action" to further reduce expenses while closing underperforming stores. He said some stores are being downsized to 12,000 square feet from between 18,000 and 24,000. Online sales make up roughly half of Staples' sales, while industry-wide those sales represent about 6.5 per cent of a U.S. retailer's business.

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Mr. Cukoff said Staples Canada waited until the end of September to shut the bulk of its 15 stores slated for closure in its current fiscal year in an attempt to capture back-to-school sales of late summer and early fall.

"Our message to the landlords is that the business is doing well," he said. "This thing is cyclical. It's just a culling of underperforming stores. I don't think that we're doing anything that is dramatically different than others."

But he acknowledged that big businesses generally buy their office supplies online or through a catalogue rather than in bricks-and-mortar stores.

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