E-commerce will save small businesses

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Satish Kanwar is vice-president of product at Shopify


The economic foundation of Toronto is built on small business. And while the GTA alone accounts for almost half of Ontario’s businesses, many of them have been hit hard by Covid-19, forced to shutter brick-and-mortar locations and lay off staff. The Broadview-Danforth BIA, for example, found that nearly two-thirds of the city’s small businesses may not reopen.

The rise of e-commerce gives small businesses the chance to not only stay alive but improve how they serve their customers. Since the onset of lockdown, we’ve seen a decade’s worth of e-commerce growth happen in a few short months, as every type of business and consumer has sought to replace their offline relationships with online ones. Retailers who embraced the change early have been able to survive and thrive. Between March 13 and April 24, local retailers lost 71 per cent of their brick-and-mortar sales, but successfully earned back 94 per cent of that revenue with online sales.

Now, as fast as I can get toilet paper delivered, I can get fresh sourdough from Fantail in Roncesvalles, fall clothes from Good Neighbour in Leslieville and home goods from Kitchen Art in North York. And this digitization is happening fast: the average daily local orders online were up 176 per cent in the six-week period after lockdown began. The city has also established the Digital Main Street and ShopHere programs, which helped thousands of businesses move online during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar stores will become micro fulfillment centres and service points. Curbside pickups, shopping appointments and video calls with the stores we love will become our new normal in a post-pandemic world. Strategies like this will also help businesses get the most out of their valuable staff and square footage in stores.

Toronto has shown time and time again that it’s the best place in the world for new ideas and opportunities. This moment is no different. To keep our economy alive, we’ll have to help small businesses make that leap. The future needs a new kind of local retail.


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