University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Close up of Satish Kanwar looking off to the side with trees in the background
Photo by Jessica Lee

Surviving the ‘Shopocalypse’

U of T Scarborough grad Satish Kanwar is helping small businesses thrive in a market that’s gone virtual

The boarded-up storefronts say it all: the pandemic has been brutal for retailers. Yet by ramping up their focus on e-commerce, many owners have managed to both stay afloat and find new sources of revenue growth.

Satish Kanwar (BBA 2008 UTSC) 1 is vice-president and general manager, channels, for Shopify, a Canadian software company that helps businesses sell their products online. Here, he explains why the current bleak economic period may yet prove to be a necessary turning point for entrepreneurs. 

Despite dire predictions, you say the pandemic has actually been beneficial for many smaller businesses. How so? 
In the past year, there has been an entire decade’s worth of progress in e-commerce, which has really increased the competitiveness of many businesses and opened them up to new customers. 2 If you’re on Main Street and you don’t have an online presence, you’re only going to be visible to the people who know you’re there, or are walking by. E-commerce is allowing many businesses to work with people in a way that they probably should have been doing beforehand. 

As more and more stores go online, what can brick-and-mortar stores do to keep up? 
The shopping environment is being re-adapted. Physical retail stores were originally designed with the expectation that someone walking into that space was interacting with the brand for the first time. This describes only a small percentage of shoppers today. Now, we’re seeing stores become “customer support hubs” for people who have already bought products online and now need help or knowledge about something.

Say you’re into camping. You don’t need to window-shop for tents because you can do that online – but you might need information on tents, or training in how to set them up. So many stores are shifting toward this type of service-based shopping, rather than just providing consumers with products. 
 
Shopify was created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. But many big-name brands use your platform too. Why?
We support over a million businesses all over the world; we wake up every day and we think about the small business owner. 3They’re the ones we’re trying to build and design solutions for, and they’re the ones who need it the most. But it turns out that when you make things easy for small businesses, large businesses like those tools as well.


Zoom preference
I like to wear shoes. They get me in the zone.

Online shopping discovery
Buying beer and wine from Ontario producers (with free local delivery!)

Fave UTSC spot
Miller Lash House. I cherished every chance to spend time there.

  1. Kanwar’s favourite spot at U of T Scarborough was Miller Lash House: “I cherished every opportunity I got to spend time there,” he says.
  2. Kanwar made his own online shopping discovery during the pandemic: buying beer and wine from Ontario producers directly (“with free local delivery!”)
  3. On Shopify Zoom calls, Kanwar says he likes to wear shoes. “They get me in the zone.”

Recent Posts

Photo of front campus field and Convocation Hall with flower emoji illustrations floating above

Clearing the Air

U of T wants to drastically cut carbon emissions by 2050. It’s enlisting on-campus ingenuity for help

Abstract illustration showing a red-coloured body and face, with small black and white pieces flowing from inside body out of the mouth, and the U.S. Capitol Building dangling on puppet strings from one hand

The Extremism Machine

Online disinformation poses a danger to society. Researchers at U of T’s Citizen Lab are tracking it – and trying to figure out how to stop it

Prof. Mark V. Campbell with a beige background and red lighting

Charting Hip Hop’s Course

Professor Mark V. Campbell grew up during the early years of rap music. Now, he is helping preserve Canadian hip-hop culture for future generations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *