By Mario Toneguzzi
A Montreal-based retail expert says the e-commerce space is evolving rapidly in Canada but the level of adoption by many retailers is still at a slow pace.
Ben Crudo, CEO of Diff, a full-service, e-commerce agency, said the company’s American clients are oftentimes a little more progressive in the way that they think when it comes to this latest trend in the retail industry.
“Canadian retailers feel like they’re playing catch-up a little bit and not necessarily taking advantage of all of the latest tooling and whatnot,” said Crudo, whose company is headquartered in Montreal with an office in Toronto and a couple of staff members based in New York City. It was formed in 2011 and today has about 50 people.
“We’re an e-commerce agency. E-commerce is the only type of work that we do in the digital space. Our focus is primarily on the Shopify platform. We essentially help retailers and merchants of different types get e-commerce up, optimized, profitable and also do a lot of the integration throughout their supply chain. We do the e-commerce from top to bottom in a fully integrated way,” said Crudo.
“We’re one of the largest agencies that focuses on Shopify and we’re also one of their longest standing partners.”
Crudo said some of Canada’s biggest retailers, who have been operating for many years, have only adopted e-commerce fairly recently.
“I’m not sure if it’s a hesitation as much as it is just market conditions perhaps,” said Crudo. “The Canadian landscape is a little less competitive perhaps than that which exists in the U.S. and because of that our better established brands are able to kind of coast a little bit longer. I can’t really point to one thing exactly but it feels like those things are just a little bit less desperate here for growth."
“Although the retailers here aren’t necessarily the first to adopt new technology, I see that as kind of a benefit because the early adopters are the ones that have to fight the hardest in order to really craft old technology to suit them. But when you kind of take a pause for a minute, or you’re a little bit of a laggard, technology is increasing at such a rapid rate and the solutions that you looked at two years ago for a million dollars now cost $50,000 let’s say three years down the road. So there’s a tremendous amount of new tooling and technology that retailers can avail themselves of now for much less cost than ever before. So I definitely see the need for convergence and greater adoption and for awareness that even these tools exist and you don’t have to make your web developer a partner in your business anymore to create a successful digital presence.”
So in that retail landscape where is the future for bricks and mortar locations in Canada?
“I’m kind of optimistic. If we study brick and mortar retail over the decades, we’ll see that it’s kind of constantly been in a state of flux and maybe previously a lot of the problems were felt similar and were related to the nature of supply chain and merchandising and activities that retailers were already doing to some degree but there has to be a little bit more of a convergence between the presence that exists online and those that exist on the brick and mortar space,” said Crudo.
“And the retailers that don’t feel as though they’re two separate channels that exist within their organization but really treat them as complementing channels are the ones that are going to be speaking their customers’ language and appealing to them most.”
He said bricks and mortar retailers have inherent advantages that can be easy to overlook, such as a storefront presence, the instant gratification of product availability, and the expertise of human staff which can’t be replicated online.
Crudo said bricks and mortar retailers can embrace the changing landscape of retail and incorporate a mix of tech, employee incentives and personalization to up their game in 2018. Some of examples of how to do that include:
Learn to love online sales - For bricks and mortar stores, online isn’t your enemy, it’s your ally. Having an omnichannel strategy is critical as it allows store fronts to avoid the pitfalls of traditional retail such as stock-outs/walk-outs. Companies don’t need to re-invent the wheel as tools like Shopify offer a full-stack fix. At the least, customers should be able to see inventory and reserve for pickup in store;
Start embracing low-hanging tech - This can be as easy as getting customers’ email addresses, having iPads or a kiosk to connect in-store customers with online offerings, or screens for product demos;
Find ways to incentivize your in-store staff to make online sales - Commissions are traditionally based on in-store sales only, but does it have to be that way?;
Better personalize your customers’ in-store experience – The online shopping experience and a sophisticated knowledge of purchase history has created higher expectations for personalization. How can retailers increase personalization in-store? Companies need to be collecting data in-store, ensure that their online and offline systems are talking to one another, and be hiring top notch staff to help.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.