Published originally by BDC
Canadian consumers are buying more and more goods online. Yet while most Canadians are online, many Canadian business aren't there yet—meaning much of our spending is going to companies in the United States.
In fact, Statistics Canada says that just 10% of small businesses were selling online in 2012. At the same time, Canadian consumers spent an estimated $21 billion on online purchases—that's up nearly 30% in just two years, according to research firm eMarketer.
Get your feet wet
The good news: It’s never been easier or cheaper to get started in e-commerce. No longer do businesses need to invest huge sums in an e-commerce website. You can create a sales-ready site with no programming knowledge using free services such as OpenCart and PrestaShop, or inexpensive providers such as Shopify and eBay Stores.
These sites come with an online shopping cart, product catalogues and the ability to pay via credit cards or other methods, such as PayPal. Also included are options for customer reviews and feedback, and data on your sales to help you track performance. "If you know how to use e-mail, you can build an e-commerce site in 15 minutes," says Harley Finkelstein, Chief Platform Officer at Shopify, a leading e-commerce website provider.
E-commerce can level the playing field for small businesses, including those in small towns, Finkelstein notes. Online sales allow you to punch far above your weight in attracting customers. With a well-designed website, a small business can reach as many people online as a much larger company. Plus, your site can be seen worldwide 24 hours a day, and Internet marketing tends to be cheaper than traditional methods.
"The Internet has democratized entrepreneurship," Finkelstein adds. "Thanks to the Internet, I think the future of commerce belongs to small businesses." Another advantage: E-commerce lets businesses test products and marketing approaches at little cost, while getting quick feedback from potential customers.
The online advantage
Unlike a bricks-and-mortar store, where you might be stuck with the same product display for months because of the investment, an e-commerce site can be changed for free in minutes to include new products or a different look, Finkelstein says. You can then quickly check your web traffic data to see how clients are responding to your changes.
E-commerce allows the kind of trial and error that entrepreneurs often need to do before succeeding. "One of the advantages of online sales is you can pivot quickly," says Finkelstein.
Anita Bezeau, Assistant Vice President of Information and Communication Technology Solutions at BDC, agrees. "The cost of entry is very low," she says. "The Internet allows you to try and fail and learn."
Selling over the Internet helps streamline order processing, reducing costs and errors, Bezeau adds. And it offers businesses a "huge competitive edge" because of the convenience of online ordering, she says. "The more convenience you create for clients, the more they’ll stick with your business."
3 tips for e-commerce success
1. Start small
Don’t get bogged down trying to create a huge, high-end website featuring hundreds of products. Start with a free or low-cost e-commerce site, and test three or four products to gauge customer interest while working out the kinks in your ordering and fulfilment process.
2. Test and learn
Don’t expect to succeed with your first efforts. "It’s really about learning," BDC’s Anita Bezeau says. "Technology allows us to do and test quickly and economically."
3. Be attractive
In your online store, feature attractive product images, clear descriptions and an easily navigable layout, so visitors can quickly find what they’re looking for and make a purchase. Also, engage visitors with fun and educational extras: How-to tips for products, interesting videos and background information on the story of your company.