What Is eCommerce? What Does It Mean for Your Business?

How often do you shop online? If you’re like most Canadian consumers, it’s becoming more frequent. Canadians shoppers have embraced eCommerce. More than 80 percent of Canadians reported they had used digital channels to shop at least once in the past year, according to a recent Canada Post report.

A 2018 report from marketing research firm eMarketer estimated that 9 percent of retail spending in Canada happened online, reflecting a 26 percent increase from 2017. And, while consumers prefer to buy from Canadian retailers, there’s just one problem: Canadian retailers have not adopted eCommerce platforms as readily as their customers have.

The majority of Canadian businesses, particularly small and medium-sized independent businesses, just aren’t selling online – yet. Recent estimates place the number of independent businesses selling online at less than 20 percent. That means a few key things for your business. Let’s take a look at what eCommerce is, why it’s important, and how to get started and maintain an eCommerce platform for your business.

What Exactly Is eCommerce?

Much like email or e-newsletters, tacking an “e” onto commerce is meant to distinguish the electronic version of something we’re already doing. eCommerce, at its most basic, means any commercial transactions taking place online or in the digital world. That includes buying directly from company websites and marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, as well as the more recent advent of purchasing through social media posts and storefronts.

Because of Canadians’ early and eager adoption of online technology, Canada has been touted as ripe for the eCommerce picking for nearly a decade. Yet, the actual growth of eCommerce has yet to catch up to its potential, a vexing challenge for those who study such things. So much so that the federal government has gotten involved, creating a series of consultations exploring concerns and disconnects between business and technology.

Why eCommerce Is Important

As mentioned before, consumers are shopping online – whether your business is there or not – and much of their money is spent across the border, particularly in the U.S. In an assessment of Canadian eCommerce, consulting group BCG didn’t tread lightly, underscoring the negative effects of lethargic adoption: “Because of the slow development of eCommerce in Canada, local companies lag industry leaders in multiple critical areas, including online traffic, sales conversion, product assortment, and loyalty and retention.” It’s not just locals paying attention to the potential, either. IMRG, the UK’s retail association, noted that “Canadian eCommerce has been a sleeping giant, but it’s waking up” in a report on growing international markets. In other words, other economies are eyeing Canadian businesses’ slow adoption as an opportunity.

Given the “money left on the table” and growing customer expectations surrounding eCommerce, it’s not entirely clear why businesses have been slow to make the move to digital. It’s likely business owners recognize the importance of adopting technology and providing eCommerce options, but even just figuring out what to look for in an eCommerce platform can be daunting. And once you do begin, how do you keep up? Should you consider selling online?

What’s a Business Owner to Do? How to Embrace eCommerce

In the late 1800s, after realizing his employees were likely skimming his saloon profits, James Ritty built and patented a machine that would eventually change how business transactions were carried out from then on. Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier, the first automatic cash register, was a pioneer of disruptive technology in the retail space. While it could potentially save business owners money, it was not readily embraced – it was expensive, wasn’t easily available, still required employees to be honest, and didn’t offer a cash till. Later iterations of the machine were much more attentive to business needs, but the lesson still stands: while technology can be an answer, it has to be an easy and efficient one.

While all of this talk of eCommerce and its potential is fine and good, you might find yourself asking how you’re going to not just embrace this, but also maintain it. Much like those later iterations of Ritty’s machines, the tools available to businesses have evolved a great deal to address your needs as well as those of your customers.

Where to Begin with eCommerce

Point-of-sale systems are a great place to start, particularly merchant processing systems like Square, which offer more than just a console for transactions and can effortlessly link with your website and other digital tools. In simpler terms, you need the following to get started:

  • A website with purchasing options
  • A way to process payments
  • Logistics and inventory support
  • A process to complete orders that come in through your digital channels
Get started with the Square App Marketplace.

Fully integrated third-party apps to help run your businesses.

From a time and learning-curve perspective, one full-service system that can help you build and manage the required components of an eCommerce platform is ideal. For example, Square not only offers payment solutions, but also offers the option of taking orders and selling online right in the Square console. If you’re looking for a more robust and customizable way to offer eCommerce and want to build or upgrade your website to offer online purchases, Square also offers a multitude of integrations with common website builders and content management systems.

Square has several preferred partners, which makes it even easier to get up and running. For example, Square recently acquired Weebly, which offers an easy-to-use website builder and a specific eCommerce platform builder. Weebly has long offered free and low-cost web and eCommerce solutions, giving independent businesses and entrepreneurs a way to compete in the online space. This integration makes the best of both platforms – easy to use, easy to integrate, customizable, optimized for SEO and marketing outreach – while offering increased security for you and your customers.

Using a point of sale system like Square and making use of its integrations like Weebly takes care of three of the four components to getting your eCommerce platform up and running.

You’re eCommercing, Now What?

Just sit back and watch the money roll in. Just kidding! Sort of.

A crucial part of eCommerce is, of course, delivering on the experience your customers expect. Convenience is one of the top factors in eCommerce purchases. That’s why it’s important to ensure you know how to handle digital orders before they start rolling in. Investigate how and where you will do your shipping, making sure you have the packaging materials on hand to make shipping available. If you’re not shipping goods but instead are offering an order online/pick up model, it’s just as important to make sure your customer experience is efficient.
The benefit of using a POS system, particularly Square, is that you can have faith that, as eCommerce platforms and expectations advance, you already have the tools at hand to keep up.

What eCommerce Can Tell You About Your Business

There’s a bonus to embracing eCommerce – beyond increasing sales and access to your goods and services. When you use a cohesive system like Square to manage your eCommerce, the insights available can be very telling. For example, with Square data tools, you can keep track of customer behaviour and sales trends, compare in-store to online sales, see who your big spenders are, track marketing and outreach efforts, and much more.

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