When businesses in downtown Cornwall began reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, local entrepreneur Kelly Bergeron wasted no time trying to figure out ways to help support beleaguered merchants.
“I saw this great video about the World Health Organization’s leader saying to act quickly and not to be afraid to fail,” said Bergeron, the former executive director of the Cornwall Innovation Centre.
Using Shopify’s platform, Bergeron created a website where Cornwall residents can directly support local businesses without leaving their homes.
Based on a previous program that supported businesses in the city’s downtown core, Cornwall-gift-certificates.ca lets shoppers purchase gift certificates online from participating merchants, which can then be used at a later date. On the website’s first day of operations, consumers purchased $1,500 worth of gift cards.
The money gets deposited into the business’s account immediately, providing much-needed income at a time when cash flow is becoming more and more precarious.
“The sentiment from people who want to support small business is how to do that without physically going into a store or restaurant,” Bergeron said.
The idea is to help local entrepreneurs weather the storm until consumers are finally able to resume their normal shopping habits. Bergeron even got a shout-out from Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke for her efforts to support merchants.
“We took learnings from a program that was run through our downtown a long time ago, which was basically to buy downtown dollars and spend them anywhere,” she said.
Experts say the temporary lift provided by gift cards can go a long way in helping businesses stay afloat.
“There are tons of businesses that are going to be really having their beginning of the year really gutted as a result of the increasing cost of self-isolating,” Dan Kelly, the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, recently told the Canadian Press.
“If you're a small hair salon nail salon trying to hang on during this difficult time, the future of your business may be in jeopardy, so buying a gift card or booking a service a few months in advance can be really really helpful signals to the business owner, that brighter days are around the corner and they should try to stick it out.”
Bergeron collects payments for the gift certificates via online transfers. She sends the money to the business, then logs the transaction in a Google spreadsheet, which is shared with all participating merchants so they can monitor and follow the sales. Bergeron also sends a confirmation email to the purchaser with a code to be used at the time of purchase.
“I would love some sort of automation that can automatically do that – hint hint, Tobi and [Shopify] team,” she said, adding she hopes to learn more about how to best use Shopify’s services so she can take a more hands-off role in the process.
“My intention is not to make money from this,” she added.
Bergeron is no stranger to responding to helping others in times of crisis.
In 2011, while she was working as a digital experience manager at Ontario 211, a free helpline that connects residents to social services in their communities, an F3 tornado hit the southwestern Ontario town of Goderich. Working alongside the Red Cross and United Way, Bergeron and her team responded to calls for assistance with food, shelter and clothing.
Now, with the COVID-19 outbreak leaving many business owners worried about their long-term futures, Bergeron is “using technology as a way to help others.”
Businesses in and around Cornwall that want to participate in the program can fill out the contact form on the website.
– With files from Canadian Press