Ottawa's brick-and-mortar merchants benefit from Shopify effect

Shopify
Doug Chapman, owner of Great Escape Outfitters in Westboro, says Shopify employees have visited his store ‘many times.’ Photo by Ted Simpson

With annual revenues that now top the $1-billion mark, 4,000-plus employees and more than 800,000 merchants using its platform, Ottawa-based Shopify has become a global tech powerhouse in every sense of the word.

But to Sheba and Gordie Schmidt, the e-commerce giant is more like that friendly neighbour who comes over when your computer is on the fritz.

The husband-and-wife team have owned West End Kids, a children’s apparel store on Richmond Road in Westboro, for nearly a quarter of a century. In that time, they’ve witnessed a lot of changes that have transformed mainstreet brick-and-mortar retail ​– maybe none bigger than the rise of online shopping.

“Without online, we wouldn’t be here anymore. That’s the reality,” says Gordie, adding overhead on his 1,300-square-foot store “has gotten to such a point that you need to subsidize it” with sales via the web.

West End Kids has had an online presence for years, but things really took off when the store adopted Shopify as its e-commerce platform in 2014. Online sales have quadrupled since it shifted to Shopify and now constitute nearly a third of the store’s revenues.

But the software firm has also helped West End Kids and other local merchants boost their in-store sales.

When Sheba had issues migrating her old point-of-sale system over to Shopify’s platform, the e-commerce company sent researchers to talk to her about the issues facing retailers who were using its systems.

Over the years, well over a dozen Shopify employees have visited West End Kids to get a sense of how the Schmidts do everything from figuring out how much inventory they need to how they organize their in-store pickup service. The store recently switched to Shopify’s point-of-sale system, and a new team of researchers is set to stop by the store in August to get a crash course in preparing for the fall rush.

New products

“They’re continuing to improve themselves constantly,” Gordie says of Shopify’s employees.

Shopify has launched a number of products designed to help traditional retailers. It introduced mobile card readers in 2016, and last year it added a feature to its point-of-sale system that allows customers who bought items online to exchange them at a physical store. 

In a statement, Shopify said it encourages its workers to “spend time learning from our merchants” in an effort to help them grow their brick-and-mortar business.

The company says more than 100,000 traditional retailers used its point-of-sale product in 2018, and the system is now Shopify’s second-largest sales channel after its online platform.

Just down the street from West End Kids, retailer Doug Chapman also uses Shopify for his online platform and in-store point-of-sale system. The owner of outdoor clothing shop Great Escape Outfitters says the firm’s employees have been to his store “many, many times” in an effort to find out what works well and what doesn’t when merchants use Shopify’s products on an everyday basis.  

“You show them why it doesn’t actually work quite the way they wanted it to,” he says.