It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the pandemic closed storefronts across Canada and transformed the way people shop. More than 150,000 brick-and-mortar businesses shifted to e-commerce at the start of the pandemic1 in order to reach their customers and tap into new online demand.
Canadian consumers are now more open to trying new brands and products, are shopping with purpose and are shifting their dollars to support brands with diversity and inclusion at their core.
Last year, we also saw a rise in people searching for ways to support Black-owned businesses.The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black businesses across Canada and consumers have been looking for ways to help. Search interest in “Black owned businesses” spiked in June and continues to be higher than previous years.
This has created new opportunities for Black-owned businesses to reach new customers online. We asked some recent graduates of ShopHERE powered by Google, a free program that helps business owners and artists create online stores, to share how they’re shifting their focus from getting online, to growing new business online this year.
Expand your online presence
Sadé James has embraced pivots throughout her career. In 2013, she moved from the corporate world to the creative one to follow her passion for unique, handmade jewelry design. Last year, she took her upscale accessories brand Madeoneofakind online, to reach customers during the pandemic. This year, she’s focused on finding ways to take her e-commerce store to the next level.
“Engage on all major social media platforms," she says. "Get a domain and create a reliable website that you own and can control. Join a popular e-commerce marketplace that will help increase your customers and sales; and cross promote with other brands or engage micro influencers to build brand equity. Lastly, grow an email list. This will allow you to contact your customers directly with special incentives for shopping on your website, and it helps build brand loyalty.“
Find fast and affordable ways to reach customers
Four years ago, Naana Daniels suffered severe burns on her skin and began a healing journey using non-toxic products and natural ingredients. But when she couldn’t find a solution that worked for her, she decided to create her own. Drawing on her background in cosmetology and modelling, she started her own Ghanaian-inspired organic skincare and haircare line, Honam Naturals. In a few years, it went from her kitchen in Ajax, Ontario to homes across the world, and now online.
“Desperate time calls for desperate measures and shop closures during the pandemic changed our marketing strategy," she says. "I had several shops where customers could go and purchase products and try samples, however all those shops are now closed. This meant I had to concentrate on online marketing and giving customers a way to buy online. We reached out to our customers through advertisements on Google and social media, and blogs were sent out to update customers of new products. We collaborated with other brands including Shop Local to reach out to new customers. Through the ShopHERE program I got a new website that had great shipping rates. Sales shot up 30%, a welcome blessing during this time of uncertainty.”
Keep focused on long-term goals
Ottawa, Ontario fashion designer Kathia François is committed to sustainable, ethical and “slow fashion,” with a focus on culture. Last year, she launched an online store, Sans Effort, to showcase her line of fluid, size-inclusive clothing and accessories.
“There is no perfect time to launch your business. Being an entrepreneur is no easy feat," she says. "The journey for some will be a solitary one. Many won’t comprehend your passion or vision. Regardless, you must remain on course, no matter the obstacles. You’ve taken all the necessary steps in researching, marketing and understanding your customer and their needs. Don’t over-complicate your brand with excesses and too many offerings — your vision should be clear. Allow yourself time to grow, and be present and transparent as much as you can. It may not begin as you envisioned but do it anyway. You got this!”