Businesses continue to invest in tech to meet consumers where they shop, report shows

businesses online store

After hard lessons learned during the pandemic and despite today’s challenging economy, many businesses are continuing to invest in technology to boost sales and profits.

That’s according to a new report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce titled “A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once,” which suggests that businesses of all sizes, some of which did not previously have a digital presence, were essentially forced online during the pandemic and now intend to continue to adopt new technologies going forward.

Author Marwa Abdou, senior research director at the chamber’s analytics arm Business Data Lab, said small businesses have shown an ability to adopt technologies that improve the way they do business.

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“Businesses are finding themselves in a landscape where they’re dealing with a quantum digital shift,” she said. “And, to our surprise, not only did they meet that shift with resounding resilience, they continued to invest intentionally in security software tools, in cloud computing, and in collaboration tools.”

Businesses of all sizes across all industries reported that they have plans to make more investments in tech, with more than half intending to adopt new digital technologies to help move their business operations or sales online.

It’s a trend that’s in line with shifting consumer preferences.

“The way we, the consumers, shop continues to evolve,” said Abdou. “The dawn of new technologies and the ubiquity of social media has changed not only how we shop, but where, when and what we shop for.”

According to the report, Canadians increasingly rely on the digital sphere to do their shopping.

For some products — including vacations and travel, event tickets, government services, wireless services and media, electronics, and financial and insurance products — buying online is the preference for the majority of Canadians.

But even where in-person shopping is preferred by consumers — with items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden and health products — businesses are faced with the importance of maintaining an online presence.

The report found that 83 per cent of Canadians research businesses online before they visit a store, and eight per cent have made purchases from retailers with a physical location close by. The majority, 66 per cent, also prefer to receive promotional materials through digital means such as email.

“That places a new challenge for businesses to continue to meet customers where they are,” said Abdou. “To expand the pathways through omnichannel pathways and operations, where they can meet consumers everywhere all at once.”

The report suggests that these findings “could be further motivation for small retail businesses to invest in their online presence and visibility, maintaining accurate and engaging digital information, and actively managing and growing their online reputations.

“By doing so, they could effectively capture the attention of potential customers during the research phase of purchasing and ultimately drive more foot traffic to their stores and boost sales in both domains.”

In Ottawa, many retailers have found their way online in recent years, contributing to growth in sales.

In December, Tag Along Toys owner Patti Taggart told OBJ increasing the store’s online presence had expanded its customer base.

In addition to posting regularly to social media, Taggart also created an online store in November 2022 that gave sales a boost.

“I post a lot to Instagram and Facebook. I have so many people come in and ask about something I posted,” she said.

“We’re getting a lot of people finding us online. On a Saturday, I posted one of our top toys, the Doctor Squish Maker Station, on Instagram and, no exaggeration, on Sunday I had 12 online sales from Toronto and beyond. The website has been really great for us.”

Earlier this month, Bushbalm CEO and co-founder David Gaylord told OBJ that future growth will not be because of e-commerce.

“The model used to be such that it was so much easier to grow digitally, using e-commerce, and spending money on ads,” explained Gaylord. “But that world has changed, and it’s very expensive.

“E-commerce isn’t going away,” Gaylord added, going on to explain that an in-person, traditional retail approach is the key to sustainable growth.

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