Capitalizing on E-Comm Uptake | BCBusiness relies on the nimble e-comm model to stay on top of trends to serve customers more quickly than bricks-and-mortar shops.

With British Columbians showing an increased uptake in e-commerce, B.C. businesses are taking the online-only route to success

A strong online presence is essential for any emerging brand, but more B.C. businesses are skipping the storefronts and taking the online-only route to success.

“Selling online is cheaper than through a store, so you don’t need to sell as much to be profitable,” says retail expert David Ian Gray of DIG360 Consulting Ltd. “But you still have to sell, which means breaking through the noise of infinite choice. How will you get customers and at what price? Free shipping? E-commerce is not always the easier option.”

B.C. residents have been quicker to adapt to buying online than the rest of the country. When Statistics Canada released their e-commerce statistics in 2011, B.C. led the way with 47 per cent of consumers using online shopping. The province has also produced household-name e-commerce sites, such as Vancouver-based BuildDirect, which began in 1999 and is now the world’s leading online manufacturer and wholesaler of building materials.

“E-commerce adoption in our industry is slower paced compared to smaller purchase items,” says Dan Brodie, vice-president of information technology at BuildDirect. “Since we developed the technology for consumers to sample, purchase and ship heavy-weight building materials, the growth in our sector is primarily driven by our company. By using technology we developed a platform to connect the consumer directly to the manufacturer, which creates a simple and risk-free environment for consumers to purchase quality building supplies at amazing prices.”

New fashion brands have embraced e-commerce as a way to track trends. Vancouver-based startup, founded by two e-commerce agency partners, is a search engine for trending products sourced from thousands of online boutiques. The website claims to offer the “hottest” items by tracking the price and stock of more than 500,000 products and using approximately 100 million “social signals” from across the Internet.

“With e-commerce we can move so much faster,” says Matt Friesen, CEO and co-founder of Wantering. “If a new Japanese denim label starts to blow up on Tuesday morning, by Tuesday night we can be promoting it to Wantering users.”

Despite British Columbians’ increasing interest in e-comm, Friesen says that Canadians have been slower to change their shopping habits, especially when compared with their American counterparts. Traditionally, U.S. websites have provided a cheaper alternative to Canadian online shopping. A recent Forrester Research survey found that 68 per cent of Canadians bought from non-Canadian websites, with a further 68 per cent complaining that shipping costs were too high on homegrown sites. “High shipping rates, slow delivery and expensive duty all make online shopping tougher in Canada. This is starting to change, with more retailers offering Canadian distribution and free shipping and returns to Canadians,” says Friesen.

When addressing the challenges of e-commerce, Friesen says finding your audience on the Internet can be tricky. “With a local business it’s easier to find, and know, potential customers. We have to cast a very wide net through channels like Pinterest, Tumblr and Polyvore. It takes millions of impressions to drive meaningful sales when your audience is that unfocused.”

Vancouver startup also uses the social side of shopping online. The website provides a platform for users to request products or services they want, and then sends those requests to businesses to bid on. Businesses post offers on the products or services they have, which are matched and sent to appropriate consumers. Darelle also donates 10 per cent of its revenue to the charity or not-for-profit of the user’s choice.

“It allows consumers, businesses and charities to come together and negotiate terms that work for them,” says founder Kyle Kotapski. “We were tired of seeing big business do what they all always do, outspend small and medium-sized businesses and leaving small and medium enterprises little or no way to compete fairly. Good business should be about good value not just the lowest price. We level the playing field.”