It was a website hanging in the dark, not well known and not well searched. It contained every business in St. Albert, along with locations and opening times. It had the ability for businesses to sell online and have their social media displayed. If used to its full potential, St. Albertans could find themselves never needing to shop in Edmonton again.
When Arlene Merrill saw it, she knew with a little elbow grease she could make ShopStAlbert.com into the site it was always meant to be.
“The site has been running since 2009 but there wasn’t much being done with it,” she says. “But I decided to buy the franchise because I really believe in shopping local and I’ve seen how the site has brought communities together.”
The website serves like a hybrid online Amazon, specifically focused on St. Albert businesses. Local retailers can get a free profile where they upload their logo and have social media posts displayed for free.
To use the site, residents simply go to the homepage and using a search bar, type in the item they’re looking for.
A list of stores will appear where customers can choose from and, if the business has a full-paid package, purchase the item online.
“Shopping local grows our economy. When people shop, that money stays here,” she says. “I feel that people really want to shop here, they just don’t always know what businesses are in St. Albert.”
Since taking over the business in the beginning of March, 41 businesses in St. Albert have launched profiles on the website.
Merrill owns the ShopStAlbert.com franchise in St. Albert, but the site is connected to a parent franchise called ShopCity.com.
Shopcity.com started in Midland, Ont. around 13 years ago. After a Walmart had moved into town, Colin Pape, founder of the shopcity.com franchise and resident, banded together with local businesses to challenge the mega retail chain.
Using the online website, locals began to find items they wanted to purchase from locally owned businesses instead of heading to Walmart.
After partnering with co-founder, Jim Terry, the two began to launch sites in cities across North America.
Currently there are 8,000 registered sites across Canada and the United States. Merrill says she was inspired to take over the site based on her experience as a business owner.
“I always felt like there was never a platform for us as a small business to be able to utilize to get out there what we needed,” she says. “So I know what it’s like to feel like you’re stuck and to feel like you don’t have access to customers.”
She says she saw a commercial for ShopKelowna.com and thought, “St. Albert needs one of these.”
After taking a drive throughout St. Albert and finding businesses unknown to the average local, her thoughts were confirmed.
Packages range from $30 to $400, and can offer a variety of services for businesses such as: logo and description, customer reviews, gift certificates, posting to social media, traffic reports, newsletter subscriptions to customers, press releases and marketplace items.
Laura Oladokun, owner of Sweet Boutique, is a local retailer who recently created a free online profile. The store specializes in ladies’ clothing, accessories, jewelry and natural bath and body products.
“I saw (ShopStAlbert.com) on my Instagram and I screen-shotted it as something I needed to do,” she says. “Because I really have a super focus on shopping local, which is why I won’t put a store anywhere else.”
She says her business has a thriving e-commerce site, so she probably won’t take advantage of the online marketplace. However, Oladokun says she does plan on looking into some of the package options.
“I would love for people to stay and shop in St. Albert, it’s so easy to just cross over into Edmonton but there’s so many great things here, we don’t really need to,” she says.
Oladokun says customer loyalty within St. Albert is “incredible” and that people generally want to support their neighbouring businesses. However, there are still some stores residents don’t know exist based on their location within St. Albert.
That’s one of the advantages businesses have by using ShopStAlbert.com. The resident can find exactly what they’re looking for right on the website, and may discover new businesses that they hadn’t previously known of.
ShopStAlbert.com is still a work in progress, and Merrill says she’s looking forward more traction from both businesses and shoppers.
“We want people to be patient and not stop using it,” she says.
The website fits into a growing trend across St. Albert where residents are beginning to focus more on what they can purchase inside the city without having to travel into Edmonton.