The impact of COVID-19 has been especially hard on businesses that rely on foot traffic for their survival. Nia Bangala, owner of a coffee shop Congo Coffee in downtown Toronto that had to be shut down because of the pandemic, says it’s time for every brick and mortar business owner to push themselves to move their operations online with the help of partners like Shopify.

“Businesses have been looking for ways to deal with the uncertainty during the pandemic, and most of them don’t know a thing about what the future of our business will be,” Bangala told IT Business Canada. “During lockdowns, I stepped out and saw a lot of food delivery services on the go which made me realize that maybe the shops are closed but people are still ordering food from outside, and I thought to myself how are people going to find me when I do not have a website.”

That was the kind of push Bangala said she needed.

She started her online coffee shop using Shopify in April this year after trying another platform which she says was ‘a lot more complicated’ that she had almost given up on moving her business online. Her first order came a couple of days later and today, Shopify accounts for over 50 per cent of her company’s sales, while the rest of them come from the food delivery apps that her business is registered on, including Uber Eats.

“It seemed to be very difficult at first. I couldn’t understand how I was going to move online because it involved translating all the energy from brick and mortar, one-on-one contact to now selling online. Online is a parallel world with everybody and nobody knows you so I had to work on establishing myself and direct the traffic onto my website,” Bangala explained. “I think that businesses have really had to make a decision overnight. But Shopify has been providing businesses with a lot of help.”

 

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She now plans to make a permanent shift to online business and improving that experience on mobile devices.

“I’m looking into developing a great mobile platform. I want to see how I can push my Shopify experience further because right now I’m still on the free template. I am working on understanding, with the help of Shopify experts, the different plugins that I can add to it to have a better website so that everyone can find me online,” she said. “I think all I have to do is to make sure that my website looks great and can serve all these orders and handle all this traffic since the business model is changing drastically because a lot of restaurants are closing down due to the ongoing health crisis.”

Amid several other programs, Shopify, in partnership with the Government of Canada, recently launched Go Digital Canada which is aimed at bringing thousands of small businesses online and help them adapt to a digital economy, fast. This tool is widely available to all business owners, those who are new to e-commerce, or those who are looking to scale their digital presence. The hub provides a suite of educational resources and tools to build or expand a merchant’s store. As part of this program, Canadian entrepreneurs can launch their online store for free, access resources to build and run their business until October 1, 2020.?

“It is great how one can have a website up and running in just two minutes on Shopify. I set up my entire online shop and had it up and running within a few hours,” said Bangala.?“One of my friends who owns a mid-size business spent $8,000 on her website. I got mine for free.”

In addition to the Go Digital Canada program, Shopify is providing eligible merchants with a free Tap & Chip Reader (while supplies last) and POS Pro (until October 31) in an attempt to help store-front merchants adapt to the future of retail as they reopen their stores. “This will help retailers get their product to customers in a safe way with local delivery options, in-store/curbside pickup and contactless pay,” Sylvia Ng, general manager of the Start product line at Shopify, told IT Business.

Kobo, a Canadian company that sells e-books, audiobooks, e-readers, and tablet computers, also moved its business to Shopify recently.?

“We moved to Shopify because it gave us a solid out of the box online platform. At the time our online sales weren’t that strong so we were looking for a service that would provide a simple, easy to use experience while ensuring it was global,” Iain Lynch, vice-president of the global supply chain at Rakuten Kobo, wrote in an email. “They have allowed us to scale and grow our e-commerce business globally. Fraud controls have been great and the ad on services have worked well (accessory reminder before checkout, etc.).”

Lynch also said that the company’s efficiency has enhanced after moving to Shopify as it has helped them manage and process orders more smoothly.?

Canadians are a resilient bunch, says Mary Ng, minister of small business, export promotion and international trade.

“Our government is working hard to harness this entrepreneurial spirit and help Canadians turn their innovative ideas into successful businesses – and help them rebuild in the months to come. Shopify is an incredible made-in-Canada success story, and their work to help Canadian entrepreneurs go digital, as we increasingly shift online in response to COVID-19, will help create even more Canadian success stories,” she said in a recent press release.

Shopify is also working with its partners at Digital Main Street to ensure all qualifying independent businesses are referred to their ‘ShopHERE’ program, where businesses can have their online store built for them at no-cost, said Ng.

“I just feel blessed to not only have the Canadian government’s backup, but also Shopify which is Canadian tech. We are so lucky to have that and know they are really here for us, they understand the nature of small businesses and their hardships,” said Bangala.

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