For the past few years, Pond had grown business from her studio in St. Stephen, NB, where clients could visit and be fitted for a custom-made bra. But that business model didn’t work in the world of Covid-19 so she had to pull the trigger on a long-standing plan to sell online.
“Needless to say, we were stressed,” said Pond. “It was time for tough decisions. There were moments when it was tempting to just give up.”
Queen of Cups already had an online shop and booking system, but Pond had to train staff and get used to doing online fittings. Now Queen of Cups is part of the month-old global trend of companies accelerating eCommerce as a sales channel. It’s a way for traditional retailers to survive the current lock-down, and it may prove a way to accelerate the return to profitability for the survivors.
Experts in eCommerce – the purchase of goods on the internet – say two things have accelerated the growth of online selling. First, traditional retailers and producers of consumer products realized they couldn’t sell face-to-face in a world infused with coronavirus pathogens, so they had to develop online sales strategies. Second, the broad swath of society that had been slow to order things online were forced to grow comfortable with the process.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more of that,” said Jeff W. White, the Co-Founder of Halifax-based Kula Partners, a marketing agency serving business-to-business manufacturers across North America. “A lot of consumers are shifting in the short-term to an eCommerce model and … I think there’s a shift in what people are looking at in terms of fulfillment. How do you make staff safe? And customers safe? We’re all figuring that out and eCommerce is part of it.”
The Covid-19 pandemic is allowing those who specialize in eCommerce to do well. Businesses that are quick to adapt to eCommerce models can blunt the ill effects of the pandemic and position themselves for the recovery.
“In Manhattan, everything gets delivered but we were behind them,” said John Leahy, the CEO of Halifax-based web-development agency immediaC. “We’re not behind them anymore. People here are getting everything delivered, whether it’s beer or a sandwich or lawnmowers.”
Leahy said that immediaC has recently been installing “online storefronts” that range from kitchen companies to office furniture to craft breweries. One client is Big Spruce Brewery of Baddeck, NS. It had been selling beer at its “Spruce-tique” (the name it’s given its retail outlet), but growing online sales have made it more reliant on the “Spruce Caboose”, the van that ships out product ordered online.
Allyson England, whose Nova Box allows people to go online to order boxes of Nova Scotian goods, said she has noticed a change in the market.
“Historically people have purchased boxes as a gift for their family and friends who live away,” said England. “Lately, I’ve actually noticed an increase in people buying the boxes for themselves. Since we are spending more time at home, I think people are craving items that are local, practical and comforting.”
One young Atlantic Canadian business that’s benefiting from the eCommerce boom is St. John’s-based Oliver POS, which has developed a plug-in point-of-sale solution for WooCommerce, which is eCommerce for websites that run off WordPress.
CEO Mathais K. Nielsen said the number of hosts he is working with has “exploded” in recent weeks. He added that many owners of eCommerce sites are being forced to get their systems going quickly and are fine tuning them as they prepare for the recovery.
“We’ve seen a lot of signups,” said Nielsen. “They have suddenly gained a major market online that they didn’t know they had. And now they want to position themselves to grow it after [the pandemic ends].”