The coronavirus challenge has divided retail businesses into two separate groups. Those that function with e-commerce and those that are strictly brick and mortar. Sadly, the have-nots may not survive.
The pandemic forced many retailers to decrease staff, shift to online sales, and rethink their supply chain. Most retailers, even those performing minimal business online, joined the ranks of e-commerce simply to survive.
Two St. Albert businesses latched onto the new opportunities and discovered that, by embracing online shopping, their clientele expanded across Canada and in some cases penetrated the United States.
The Makers Keep, a collective boutique located at four locations, including Salisbury at the Enjoy Centre, developed a reputation offering local hand-made products not usually sold in big-box stores.
“The concept for the store was to take what you see at a market and put it in the store so it’s available every day. You come in, touch it, feel it, and try it on. Originally, we didn’t go online because we wanted people to come in the store. It worked very well, and at the time we didn’t have the means to go online. We were opening another store,” said founder Katrina Petryshyn.
In January of 2020, The Makers Keep tallied highly successful Christmas sales and there was no push to shift to online. By April, all but two of Petryshyn’s 12 staff were laid off due to a pandemic lockdown.
Although brick and mortar is The Makers Keep’s strength, it needed to make ends meet. The trio built a website, loaded thousands of products on it, shipped orders, and delivered locally.
“We started featuring 10 different items every day and promoted them on sale. We were getting revenue in the door. But people wanted to see all our products. The push came from our customers. They were enjoying seeing our products online and it was very convenient for them. So many places had closed, but people still wanted to buy gifts for family and friends.”
Seeing the initial success of online shopping, Petryshyn relaunched a more user-friendly platform in November 2020. Currently, the option to buy online amounts to 25 per cent of store sales. Through online orders, Petryshyn has shipped product across Canada from British Columbia to Nova Scotia and up to the Northwest Territories.
“I’m glad we got the push to do it. It certainly helped grow our audience. It’s incredible. We can keep growing despite all the hardships.”
Saltwater Bay Boutique, a retailer carrying women’s clothing, accessories, footwear, jewelry, and gifts, was another storefront hit equally hard by public-health measures. The brick-and-mortar operation opened in 2019 with an added online website.
“But our customers didn’t use it very much. They wanted to try stuff on. They would pre-shop online and then come down to the store and buy it from there,” said boutique founder-owner Heather Landals.
The initial investment paid off. As the 2020 lockdown shuttered most non-essential stores and curb-side service picked up, Saltwater’s online sales increased. Currently, sales are up 300 per cent from the start of the pandemic, with shipments to British Columbia, Ontario, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and the United States.
“We wouldn’t have made it through the second shutdown if we didn’t have online sales.”
Landals credits the success to the store's new website.
“We rebuilt it so it could stack up against bigger chains. And we spent more money on social media marketing because that’s where online sales are.”
An online presence has given consumers the option to buy unique gift purchases typically offered by small independent businesses during the pandemic. Both Petryshyn and Landals don’t believe people’s habits will change after the pandemic. Consumers will continue to shop online at their convenience 24 hours per day.
But as Landals pointed out, “People still want to visit with staff. They want to talk and visit and touch the product.”