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The digital divide: How Canadian Small Businesses can bridge the gap

The digital divide: How Canadian Small Businesses can bridge the gap

Canada’s retail sector is at a critical junction. All retailers – from small to large – are facing new threats from across the border and around the world. Small, local retailers in particular are feeling the crunch, as their lower volumes and tighter margins are forcing them in to a new – and unpleasant – reality, as more and more large players and U.S. businesses enter the Canadian retail landscape.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel – and it’s a digital one. Retailers that embrace Canada’s new digital reality – instead of seeing it as competition and the eventual death knell of Canadian shopping – will find ways to succeed and thrive in their communities.

The realities of a changing landscape
A recent Ipsos report conducted on behalf of Yellow Pages on Canada’s digital retail landscape found that although Canada remains a world leader in digital adoption on the consumer side, the digital capabilities of its retailers lag considerably behind retailers in other countries.

This clear disconnect between the behavior of consumers and the places they shop is significant – and troubling. It’s important to consider that consumers aren’t just “adopting” digital – it’s becoming woven into the fabric of our lives. Our interactions and relationships – between human beings, as well as between the services we use and the places we shop – are also becoming digital.

If consumers are interacting in a digital landscape, and the stores they want to shop at aren’t there… they’re simply going to find stores that are. And that’s where the threat of giant e-tailers becomes even more clear. Their size, scale and the amount of choice – not to mention the prices and convenience these e-tailers offer – is pushing smaller retailers further out of shoppers’ mind.

It’s also no secret that many of these giant e-tailers originate in the United States. Canada’s relationship with its southern neighbor has long been a challenge – our proximity has always made consumers aware of many choices not seen on local shelves. The internet gives Canadian shoppers even more access to these goods and products.

What’s a local business to do?

Digital opportunities are knocking
As Canadians become even more digital-savvy and are drawn more and more into online shopping, and as large retailer up their e-commerce game – local Canadian businesses are facing being locked out in the cold.

But the game isn’t over yet. Here are four ways your local business can stand out and adapt to the changing landscape of Canadian retail.

1. Go digital
If you’ve read this far, this one is obvious. Modern businesses need a website, for certain – but not the one that your nephew created after school for you. A professionally designed and built site that your customers can easily find and interact with is critical – and still just the first step.

Today’s small businesses need a digital marketing strategy that keeps their online presence fresh and allows them to interact and engage with customers on a local level – and beyond. This can include website updates, blogging, SEO, social media, and more.

2. Focus on what makes you different
A large business isn’t necessarily a better business. Small businesses are nimble and flexible, able to adapt to trends and the demands of customers more quickly. You’re able to provide one-on-one attention and customize the experience for your shoppers. And you’re not beholden to some overarching corporate strategy or the whims of stockholders.

Find out what you can do better, more quickly, at a better price – or just plain different – from the larger competitors. And make that a focus of your digital marketing strategy!

3. Connect with customers online
A personal touch is one of the hallmarks of local shopping. Store owners and business proprietors can really get to know their customers in a way big businesses – and particularly e-tailers – cannot. And digital marketing can help you with making those connections. Social media is all about interaction and sharing; and turning a social media follower into a paying customer is incredibly satisfying experience.

4. Consider strategic alliances
In a recent article we discussed the idea of “digital warehouses” – a concept where a several small businesses in a neighbourhood would team up to create a digital shopping experience for customers similar to that of a mall, or even one of those large e-tailers.

Even if you’re not ready to build a digital warehouse with your neighbours, working together within your community will help ensure your neighbourhood’s long-term success. Connect with your local business association to find out more about how you and your fellow entrepreneurs can help your community thrive – and your businesses succeed.

If you’re worried you’re falling behind your peers or that you’ll never catch up with the big players, Yellow Pages can help. Visit us online and talk to one of our experts to learn how we can help you build a website, drive traffic, get started on social media and more.

Get involved

Show your support for shopping in your community by displaying a Shop The Neighbourhood window cling in your storefront, or a digital banner on your website. Get yours for free today!

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About Shop The Neighbourhood

Shop The Neighbourhood is a Yellow Pages initiative to encourage local shopping and support for small businesses. Shop The Neighbourhood raises awareness of the large-scale push from retailers both online and across the border which moves dollars away from the small businesses and directly impacts the health of our neighbourhoods and our communities.

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