While many industries and sectors have struggled throughout this year, e-commerce has seen a highly successful 2020. Its growth has been massive and is set to continue well into 2021. Online sales have strengthened this year in the absence of brick-and-mortar stores being open, with online sale records set to be broken. It has even affected the spending patterns of most consumers, including in Canada, where our agency is based.
Companies with online stores have been able to reap the rewards while those without have been playing catchup, desperately trying to reconnect with their audience. The shift to e-commerce has been a setback for many brands, but one that many major brands have managed to hurdle past and begin to see the benefits of in terms of sales. But for small and local businesses, making the jump to online is a far larger one. And with stores across the country dealing with the economic repercussions of the lockdown measures, it’s understandable why many small businesses are asking if it is worth it.
For many, the impact of the pandemic has been a warning shot. According to a recent study by PayPal Canada, two in three (67%) small businesses now accept online payment, with just under half (47%) having adopted this since Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic in March. A separate survey by Microsoft Canada found similar results. Spurred on by the looming threat of physical store closures and initiatives to get small businesses into e-commerce, many have made the big leap. But has it been a benefit to them or another struggle in a year plagued by them?
The biggest draw right now for having an online store is that it gives stores an opportunity to connect with the customer base they have lost. Your custom range is not limited by how many people you can have in a store at once or your local regulations. And regardless of whether it is via delivery or curbside pickup, many people are seeing the draw of nonphysical shopping, especially in the midst of the pandemic. Even after lockdown measures were relaxed and stores reopened, shoppers have been hesitant to return to stores over fears of Covid-19. This is despite the fact that studies have found that small, local business are far better at following health guidelines set out by the government: 79% of businesses in one survey were found to go above and beyond the requirements, with a further 90% finding it very easy to regulate how many people are in a store at one time in line with social distancing guidelines.
Reconnecting with the customer base is crucial for all small businesses right now, with the looming threat of the pandemic still ongoing. However, it is in looking further ahead that really shows the potential of e-commerce for small businesses. Stores need a direct line of communication with their audience — one that is not hampered by range or time constraints. It means connecting with customers on a wider level than before. And with small businesses moving toward e-commerce, there are signs of growing confidence among stores. A survey by SoctiaBank found that 7 in 10 small businesses are confident for the future, with 4 in 10 saying they are “very” confident.
As this move to e-commerce has happened, local communities have had to get creative in how they draw customers back. While setting up online is a great first step for stores, it does not bring a guarantee of returning customers. Getting the engagement to return is vital.
One such example in Ontario saw a local Business Improvement Area (BIA) work with local firms to create a Christmas marketing campaign, including a digital shopping guide to the town. When clicked, each item took the reader to that small business’s website, allowing local residents to instantly reconnect with stores.
The unprecedented wave of online shopping has led to creativity and innovation as small businesses have begun to grapple with e-commerce. This willingness to experiment is invaluable and, for some stores, could be the reason for their success.
Despite many stores moving toward e-commerce options, there has still been a major struggle among many businesses. A responding wave of calls to back local businesses from across the country has grown — not just in Canada, but across North America and beyond. Small Business Saturday, coming between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been seen as an opportunity for local stores to bounce back and reconnect with their customers.
Adapting to e-commerce is not an instant effect. You can’t simply click your fingers and be able to jump right in with no hiccups or road bumps. It’s a learning curve. It takes time to get it right, but making sure that you work with e-commerce is vital. Currently, only 19% of businesses in Canada are digitally advanced. Too many are not willing to embrace e-commerce. Creativity and the willingness to experiment is what will really help small businesses and decide how they grow in the future. This is not something that is going to go away.
E-commerce is a growing part of not just retail, but the economy as a whole. Small businesses should look to selling online as not just an increase in revenue, but a way to further connect with their audiences and expand their name. While brick-and-mortar is far from gone, online sales are becoming a major part of how we shop — in Canada, in the U.S. and across the world. There is one thing that we can do this year, and that is to support our local businesses — the ones in our community. It is great for us to say to promote, but it is on us to help support our local businesses and help our community.