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.
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.
- 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.
- Kanwar made his own online shopping discovery during the pandemic: buying beer and wine from Ontario producers directly (“with free local delivery!”)
- On Shopify Zoom calls, Kanwar says he likes to wear shoes. “They get me in the zone.”