It’s surprising that only 17% of Canadian small- and medium-sized (SME) business retailers are selling through online channels. But with the new breed of e-commerce, all the old excuses—not enough time, no technical or marketing skills, had a website once but customers never came to it—are all moot. 

The fact is, you can have an online store up and running—with all the essential bells and whistles like multiple delivery and payment options—within a few days. It’s really that simple with Shopify. You don’t need to understand code, hire a contractor or a professional marketer, or dole out a huge ad budget.

It’s a great time to get online

Given the toll that COVID-19 has taken on brick-and-mortar retail stores, getting online is no longer something to simply think about. It’s time to get off the fence, because being online is essential for company survival. 

During the COVID-19 lockdown, the companies that used an omnichannel strategy were able to recover 97% of lost sales. They were virtually unaffected by having to close their doors.

Tariq Esmail  —  Retail Sales Lead, Shopify

Many SMEs are clearly recognizing this, as Shopify saw a 62% increase in the number of online stores created through its platform during the initial COVID-19 lockdown. Companies just like yours—who either had no online presence, or one that simply didn’t work well—took the plunge. And rather than see their sales continue to plummet, they were able to recoup 97% of their sales through online selling and an effective omnichannel strategy. 

And there’s more: businesses that were already on Shopify before COVID-19, report that 50% of the sales they recorded during lockdown were from new customers.

Omnichannel defined

In Latin, “omni,” means all. So, an omnichannel retail strategy means that it applies to all channels. Most importantly, it puts your customer at the centre of everything. No matter how that customer interacts with your brand—whether they walk into your store, click through your online store, find you through an online marketplace, get an email notice, or see a social media post—they have a seamless, automatic, personalized, consistent experience, one that shares your brand story in a unique and compelling way. 

Businesses that were already on Shopify before COVID-19 report that 50% of the sales they recorded during lockdown were from new customers.

Tariq Esmail  —  Retail Sales Lead, Shopify

The best way to understand how an omnichannel works is to share a personal story with you. My wife and I are fans of good wine, and we like buying locally. One of our friends kept telling us about this winery in Prince Edward County. And so, while on a biking trip there, we stop in. The woman working there, Katie, tells us all about the wine: French oak, limestone, the soil and more. 

I don’t understand all of it, but something about knowing the story makes the wine tastes better. We love it, so we want to order a case. Problem: we’re on a tandem bike. But Katie says, “No problem. I’ll ship it to your house for free.”

Amazing! We head off, but five minutes later we remember we’re not home until Monday. But the winery is on Shopify, which allows me to not only track the delivery but also message Katie to verify the delivery date. 

It's a really great experience, but it goes beyond that. Because weeks later, we get another email from Katie that says, “Hey, we have a brand-new Chardonnay. I've created a cart for you and applied a discount. Feel free to try it.” It's just one click, and our case of wine shows up the next day. Along with an invitation to an event at the winery and their loyalty program. We went to the event and I'm connected to this winery on Instagram now. We chat. I share their posts. And I'm not the guy who usually does this stuff. 

No matter what you sell, I think most business owners already know they can create an omnichannel retail experience to deliver that same excitement.

Start building your omnichannel right now

Step one in developing an omnichannel retail strategy is to research where your customers already are. The best way to ensure a consistent consumer experience is to manage all of those various channels through a single platform—which is what Shopify’s all about. 

The advantages of a single platform for a business owner are many: 

  • Inventory management—access up-to-the-second inventory counts, across all channels;
  • Fluid updates—if you have an update, like a new product to sell, you load it once, then all of your channels are updated instantly;
  • Maximized customer experience—research shows that customers who buy from omnichannel retailers buy more, and they buy more often.

There’s a synergy when all channels work together, which ends up maximizing your sales. Recent data indicates that the businesses who embrace an omnichannel strategy experience 50% higher growth. They get more traffic, convert more customers, see larger cart sizes and garner much higher customer loyalty. And let’s face it: as a business owner, it enables you to be a lot more innovative and have fun. 

Let’s talk about your customers

Some 82% of Canadian consumers do online product research and make their purchases online. One-third of all consumers expect to shop more online, post-COVID-19. And the same percentage has shopped at an online retailer they didn’t use before the pandemic. 

When COVID-19 closed the doors of physical retail stores, it opened a window to online opportunities. Consumers didn’t stop buying, they simply looked for alternative ways to get what they needed online. 

Great expectations

Consumers keep on expecting more. Pre-COVID-19, overnight delivery was a common expectation. There’s a new expectation for multiple delivery options. They’ve grown to like curbside pickup and same-day local delivery, and they’ll expect that convenience long after COVID-19 wanes. 

Contactless transactions is another preference that’s here to stay, so make sure you’ve broadened your payment options online to include the new ways customers want to transact: Google Pay, Shop Pay and Apple Pay. 

The game has changed...R U ready?

Developing a great online strategy is something you need to address right now. Because once your customers learn they can get what you’re selling faster, easier, and cheaper from another place online, they're going to stick with that. And it's very hard to bring those people back once they’re gone.

A young businessman checks out his new Shopify store on his mobile phone.

Give it a try—what do you have to lose?

The only way you’ll know how easy it can be to set up your e-commerce site is to actually do it. So why not get started with Shopify’s free trial? There’s even a step-by-step guide on setting up your store. It covers all of the bases so you don’t have to sweat the small stuff. You’ll learn how to add products, create key pages and customize your online store. It also takes care of setting up shipping, taxes, payment gateways and payouts. It walks you through preparing your store for launch, launching it, then driving traffic to get your first sales.

Plus, we’ve recently launched our small business loan fund, Shopify Capital, in Canada to provide $200 million to help small businesses affected by COVID-19. Financing your e-commerce ventures will be further discussed in this series. Stay tuned!

We’re always several steps ahead

Shopify is always looking to innovate. We support a million businesses all over the world, and we want to equip every one with the tools to thrive and compete. 

For example, we analyze what factors might be holding back a purchase, then figure out how to overcome those obstacles. Has your customer made an online purchase? Great, let’s retarget their browser ads. Abandoned carts? Let’s get an email campaign going, to stay top-of-mind and incentivize to buy with a loyalty event or coupon. Concerns about delivery? We’ve incorporated curbside pickup and local delivery. Are your customers checking out at checkout? We automatically load the easiest payment option, based on their history. 

We identify the hurdles your customers might have, then come up with solutions to facilitate and accentuate their buying experience. Our platform is not only scalable—suitable for micro to mega-sized companies—but it’s ready to grow with you as you grow. If you’ve found success locally, let us show you how to expand regionally, or coast to coast, or to the United States (U.S.) and beyond. 

And yes, you should consider selling outside the Canadian market. After all, the U.S. alone has ten times the number of consumers, opening up huge opportunities for your company to grow. EDC has lots of free resources to help you learn more, including the Export Help Hub, which helps you get answers to your questions and talk to trade experts, and will soon be an app on the Shopify platform.  

Ingenuity and resilience will always win the day

There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing how a small business can think big, especially during times of adversity. Take one of Shopify’s customers, a boutique cosmetic company, for example. Their sales essentially dropped to zero when they had to close their doors. 

But they reached out to their CASL-compliant customers through an email campaign, offering a free online video beauty consultation with a sales agent, who was able to listen to problem areas, then recommend product solutions. Business became so brisk, they actually had to add two more staff members, and their sales are higher now than pre-COVID-19.

There’s nothing stopping you from following in their footsteps. Just check out Shopify’s step-by-step guide, and you’re on your way.