Tips to help your small business make the transition to online

6 minute read

The pandemic has altered the retail landscape in numerous ways – the move to e-commerce is surely one of the most significant.

The stats say it all. Retail e-commerce sales in May of 2020 increased by 2.3 per cent from just one month earlier. In total, e-commerce sales rose 99.3 per cent over February of 2019.1

The transition from bricks-and-mortar to e-commerce has been taking place for some time. Many industry retail experts say there’s no going back. As you adapt your business to the evolving market, we offer some tips to fuel your planning. At Canada Post, we’re proud to support you in your e-commerce journey with small business-focused services and a network of trusted partners.

E-commerce platforms: Simple for you, seamless for your customer

Think of an e-commerce platform as a software application that enables you to set up and manage an online store.

From secure, seamless shopping experiences to speed and scalability, the right e-commerce platform delivers numerous benefits. It can – and should – reflect your business in the most positive way possible.

There are hundreds of e-commerce platforms to choose from. So, which is the best for your business? Your customers? Your future? Here are some of the key questions you should be asking when comparing different e-commerce platforms:

  • Is it simple to use? As a small business owner, you already wear a number of hats. There’s no room for a new one that says, “E-commerce Expert”. Choosing an e-commerce platform that offers simple, hassle-free functionality is a must. And if you hit a snag along the way, you’ll want to know the provider is there to support you with customer service.
  • Is it scalable? Scalability is a key consideration to keep in mind, as you want to be able to scale for growth. Most e-commerce platforms offer a range of tools and applications that can be added as your sales volumes – and business needs – expand.
  • Is it fast and reliable? Today’s online consumers are looking for things that are quick and easy to use. They demand fast-loading websites, so you’ll want an e-commerce platform that’s fast and reliable – especially if you plan to feature lots of photography and video.
  • Does it offer a customer-friendly experience? There’s no two ways about it: your online store represents your brand. Top e-commerce platforms will offer attractive, intuitive templates and themes, super-fast loading speeds, simple navigation and mobile-responsive design. Rule of thumb: if you look at everything from your customers’ perspectives, you’ll make the right decisions.
  • Does it offer marketing and SEO tools? You’ll need to generate traffic to your online store, so look for an e-commerce platform that enables you to integrate promotional efforts, such as email marketing, e-coupons or gift cards. Also, built-in SEO (search engine optimization) tools, such as title tags, meta tags and customizable URLs will help potential customers find you online.

Partner Showcase: Shopify

Shopify enables you to create an e-commerce website backed by powerful tools. You can sell in person with point-of-sale features and online through your website, social media and online marketplaces. A single dashboard makes managing orders, shipping and payments simple. With over 70 themes available, and a drag-and-drop store builder, you can bring your brand to life without coding and design skills. Plus, through the Shopify App Store, you can subscribe to shipping solutions that are integrated with both Shopify and Canada Post.

Your website is one of your most important sales tools. Here’s how to make it work for you.

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Marketplaces: Connecting buyers and sellers

At its simplest, an online marketplace is a website or app that connects buyers and sellers. The biggest and most iconic marketplaces – Amazon, eBay and Etsy – all started at the dawn of e-commerce in the mid-90s.

As an alternative to a branded website, online marketplaces can help kick-start your business like few other online properties can. You get immediate access to more markets and customers than you could reach on your own. Every minute of the day, millions of consumers shop on dozens of marketplaces around the world.

The right marketplace for you depends on your products, needs and expectations. For instance, Etsy is ideal for unique or handmade products. Electronics and accessories are better suited for marketplaces such as Best Buy or Newegg. Spend time finding a good match for your business.

Let’s take a deeper dive into online marketplaces and see how they can boost your sales while providing customers the shopping experience they’ve come to expect:

  • Start selling in just a few clicks. The majority of major online marketplaces make the setup process fast and easy. Once you’re approved for an account, you can start selling as soon as you update your product feed.
  • Tap into a new source of revenue. Each marketplace you’re on has the potential to add to your earnings. While you’ll have to pay either a fee or percentage of sales to the marketplace, increased sales may more than make up for it.
  • Become a 24/7 international business overnight. Similar to a branded website, online marketplaces are always up and running, attracting consumers from across the country – and around the globe.

Online marketplace benefits for customers

  • Ease and convenience. Consumers love hassle-free shopping – and that goes a long way in online marketplaces. Since the pandemic started, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have embraced online shopping for the first time. For many, online marketplaces are the gateway to more convenient shopping experiences.
  • Choice. The depth and breadth of products being sold on, say, Amazon is truly extraordinary. While there are lots of big brands, marketplaces also feature their fair share of lesser-known, niche or boutique products.

Play the field

So, what is best for you – selling on marketplaces or on your own branded website? If you’re just starting out, you may want to test multiple channels for their ability to showcase and sell your products. You can always prune down the options later on.

Partner Showcase: eBay

eBay was one of the first online marketplaces and continues to be a go-to shopping destination for buyers around the world. As a seller, you’re connecting your business to more than 160 million global buyers. Over one billion dollars is spent by Canadians on eBay each year. Your business will get a boost from eBay’s ongoing investments in acquiring new traffic and technology, helping you scale for the future. The extended reach will complement your other online and brick-and-mortar channels. You’re free to sell on eBay under your own brand or a ‘white label’, plus you can create separate channels for inventory while ensuring you receive the buyer traffic necessary to support strong price realization and sales.

Canada Post and eBay are deeply integrated, offering your business the ability to access shipping labels and track shipments from within the eBay environment.

Shipping software: Simplified orders, fulfillment and returns

So, you’ve set up an amazing online store with the right e-commerce platform for your small business. As orders start coming in, you’ll want the simplest way of processing, organizing and shipping all of those orders. Shipping software can help you do that.

Shipping software integrates with your e-commerce platform so you can easily manage the end-to-end order and shipping processes in real-time. The right shipping software also allows you to consolidate orders from all of your selling channels instead of logging on and managing orders on individual channels.

Let’s take a closer look at what you should expect from top-tier shipping software providers.

How can shipping software deliver for you?

As you explore shipping software solutions for your business, look out for these helpful features:

  • Seamless integration. Your shipping software should play nice with all the top e-commerce platforms and marketplaces. Online orders are sent directly to the shipping software, at which point you can track order status in real-time.
  • Shipping rates in real-time. When incoming orders are imported into the shipping software, you’ll be able to access costs from delivery carriers based on shipping addresses, package weight and package dimensions.
  • Tracking. Look for shipping software that tracks your shipments and sends up-to-date confirmations to both you and your customers.
  • Order management. Top-rated shipping software gives you plenty of flexibility to sort, filter, split, combine orders going to the same address and batch. You’ll draw on that flexibility even more as your online businesses grows.
  • Bulk and customizable label printing. All the top shipping software systems make printing shipping labels and packing slips a breeze from any printer – including the one in your home.
  • Managing returns. Consumers prefer doing business with companies that offer a seamless returns policy. Look for shipping software that enables you to easily generate return labels to include with outgoing orders.

Partner Showcase: ShipStation

ShipStation is a leading web-based shipping software that helps import, organize, process and ship orders efficiently from any web browser, including iOS and Android mobile devices. ShipStation has partnerships with over 150 shopping carts, marketplaces, carriers and fulfillment services, including Canada Post, eBay, Etsy, WooCommerce, Magento, Shopify and Amazon. When shipping with Canada Post, ShipStation allows users to get rates and to create both domestic and international shipping labels.

Ready to make the move online?

This year has seen tens of thousands of Canadian small businesses fast-track their digital transformation. With the right sales channels and online tools, you can open the door to new customers – and new opportunities. We’re here to help with resources, insights and inspiration.

1 J. Aston, O. Vipond, K. Virgin, O. Youssouf, “Retail e-commerce and COVID-19: How online shopping opened doors while many were closing,” Statistics Canada, July, 2020.

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