Online retail hammers brick and mortar sales. Now what?!

by Natalie Tan

In 2011, Canadians spent $6.6 billion online. In 2016, the number shot up to $19.2 billion and by 2019? According to the research firm Forrester, the number is predicted to be $39 billion. Can we blame online shoppers? Almost half of all Canadians said it simply is much more convenient to purchase online. ( Not only can one shop without having to visit a physical store, they do so in the comfort of their homes. Oftentimes, prices are competitive and more online retailers now offer free shipping. Best of all, selections are wider and deeper, and out of stock situations are uncommon.

As online sales eat away at our brick and mortar sales, what is a small business to do? Being a savvy retailer now means maximizing all selling opportunities – be it ensuring conversion rate is higher and/or units per transaction is up.

In today’s market, the lines between customer service, shopper experience, curated product selection and your brand is blurring. Having a strong brand is now essential, in that by mere mention of your brand evokes an immediate vision of what you stand for. Be it an association with excellent service, a fun interactive shopping experience or merchandise customers know they will want, your brand stands for who you are. A good test is to ask customers what they associate your shop with. Listen to their response and see if this is in line with your brand DNA.

Customer service has changed since the onset of online shopping. It is inevitable to offer online shopping to our customers as a form not only of good customer service but also to ensure we retain sales to a certain extent. Having your own online shop augments your customers’ experience by creating a closer community. The benefits of having your own online store are:

1. Allows your customers to shop anytime, anywhere at their convenience. This helps ensure customers buy from you outside store hours.

2. Share staff recommendations and customer reviews of your merchandise. This adds desirability and establishes product credibility.

3. Products shown online can provide more information and specifications on the item your customers are interested in.


Natalie Tan has over 25 years experience in specialty retailing, offering her expertise to malls, retail shops and airport operators. She teaches Merchandising and Display Strategies at the BCIT School of Business and has served as a member of Retail BC's Board of Directors, as well as on the board of the BC Shopping Centre Association. Natalie has been featured in several publications and is often called by the CBC for her expert perspective on current retail issues.

Natalie's seminar at the Toronto Gift Fair's Spring 2018 market delves into this issue and explores ways for retailers to mitigate loss due to online sales. Join Natalie at the Toronto Gift Fair from January 28 - February 1, 2018.

Facebook Retail Excellence