Like anyone who ever dreamed about a future in retail, Sally Glover had a clear image in her head of the perfect store she’d run one day: the décor, the signage, the neighbourhood. “I love the human interaction, the face-to-face with the customers,” she says. “It’s the thing I miss about the bricks-and-mortar experience.” But here’s the thing about bricks and mortar: they cost.
Glover is the founder, chief executive officer and (so far) sole employee of Fresh Faced, a Toronto-based online-only operation selling natural and organic cosmetics and skin care products. Like a great Canadian business, she relies on the trust dividend that comes from flying the flag on a .CA site.
“I went with a .CA website because I’m targeting a Canadian audience,” she says. “I have a different focus from mass-market online retailers. I still get sales from the States but that’s not the basis of my business.”
“There’s definitely a benefit to having a Canadian address when you’re doing business with Canadians,” says David Fowler, director of marketing and communications with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). “Canadians like to do business with other Canadians and .CA tells them they are visiting a Canadian website. In an environment where people are aware of the origin of retail websites they visit, showing them that you are Canadian is an advantage.”
Glover launched on Earth Day 2012 and she says business is good. “It’s challenging because I have no staff, let alone a budget for marketing or PR — it’s just me, working out of my home. So I do my marketing via social media. The feedback I’ve been getting has been overwhelmingly positive — people are really glad I’m doing what I’m doing.”
In the early days of online sales, retail portals were almost always offshoots of ‘real world’ operations. That business model has since been turned on its ear. Web sales are booming and powerful new site design tools are making it cheaper and faster to start a business online before migrating offline — rather than the other way around. Shopify exemplifies that trend; in a sense, it helped start it.
The folks behind this Ottawa-based business started with an online store selling snowboards back in 2005 — but frustration with available web design tools led them into a profitable detour.
“You basically had a choice between setting up a very generic, very boring online store or spending $100,000 to $1-million putting together something attractive and interesting,” says Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s chief platform officer. He and his colleagues put their own site model together. Then the penny dropped. “Selling snowboards online was a good idea, but selling the software that lets you sell snowboards online — or anything else — is a much, much better idea.”
The genius of Shopify is that its site design tool is simple (“If you can use email, you can be up and running in an hour,” says Finkelstein). It’s adaptable — you can make your store look like nothing else on the Net. It’s also cheap — the service starts at $14 a month — which makes it very attractive to small Canadian businesses. More than 5,000 of Shopify’s clients are Canadian, using a .CA domain to help them establish a strong, trustworthy brand presence in the market that matters most to them.
“Canadians feel safer buying from Canadian sites, so the .ca confers a competitive advantage,” says Finkelstein. “Many of the more successful Canadian online enterprises emphasize it.”
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