With history as our guide, we know what is coming next: the beach crowds begin to fade, shop owners hold the last sale of the summer and we begin the slow march towards reclaiming our quiet beachside town. Local merchants, craftspeople and artists run their sales totals, budget for the winter and hope that next year the spring will be early, the summer long and gas prices low. Hey! Not so fast. Before you box up your inventory or hold a fire sale on your crafts consider how you may be able to transition your business to a year-round operation via online sales. If you think it’s not worth the hassle, here are some interesting facts from Statistics Canada: “Canadian retail e-commerce just tallied its fifth straight year of double-digit growth, yet online sales still account for less than 1% of the total retail market, according to Statistics Canada. It is expected that the average amount that Canadians spend online will grow strongly over the next three years.” While the largest markets for online sales in Canada have been electronics and travel, it is reasonable to assume that we will follow the growth path of the U.S. and begin to see stronger sales in clothing, music, DVDs, gifts, toys and more. Even if you are not up for competing with the likes of Amazon.ca, there are plenty of opportunities for the little guy. Back in 2005 I partnered with business local Lisa Grady, the founder of Sport-Med, Inc., with a plan to take the niche sports medicine business online (www.sport-med.ca). Our expectations were as scant as my hands-on experience in the world of e-commerce. But build it we did and when the first orders started to come in from towns all over Canada I was stunned. “Wow, it really works.” So today I am a strong advocate of taking the plunge, but you must do your homework first. There are many considerations but the first question to mull over is: Is the market already saturated with similar product? Maybe it is, but figure into your equation that many online retailers are U.S.-based and this creates headaches for the buyer. Canadian based sellers are still hard to find across the board from EBay to large retailers. Next, just like any business, determine if there is a demand for the product. No demand will always equal no sales. A great research tool is Google Trends (www.google.com/trends). Here you can discover what consumers are most interested in and the results are broken down geographically. As an example, using your computer, go to Google Trends and search on the term Webkinz (those cute furry toys you see in windows along Main Street). Bingo, who knew folks in Halifax and Winnipeg are the world leaders in Webkinz searches? Next do a basic Goggle search and try and find online Webkinz sellers located in Canada. Is there a market? You decide. Use the same exercise for any service or product. Whether you are interested in selling old treasures from your garage or starting a full blown online operation next time I will cover some of the available tools you can use to test the waters.
Tamara Nicola will continue her series on online selling in a future entry.