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Online shopping proves popular, lucrative


Not long ago, Christmas shopping meant trudging through crowded shopping centres and stores. Now, many people venture no further than their computer keyboard.

Statistics provided by the Retail Council of Canada indicate that online shopping is growing exponentially, with consumer purchases via this method reaching an estimated $21.5 billion in Canada last year. The figure is expected to hit $35 billion by 2016.

“I think everyone now sees it as an opportunity,” said Sharon Armstrong, senior vice-president of marketing and communication with the council. “You have to harness it; you have to really make sure that you’re servicing your customer the way they want to be served.”

Noel Wyman jumped aboard the online retail bandwagon this spring.

“It’s been great,” said the owner of Red Deer’s Alta Shop, which has operated at 4930 Ross St. for more than three years.

Wyman started trolling for cyber-customers this spring. With the help of Ottawa tech company Shopify Inc., he set up a virtual store at shop.altashop.ca.

Rather than offer Alta Shop’s full range of products — which includes a broad array of clothing and accessories — Wyman limited his online offerings to items like sunglasses, shoes and backpacks.

“I wanted to just do things that, if you bought them, you knew what you were getting.”

He felt there was a greater likelihood that Internet customers would return clothing, and that could take a big bite out of profits.

“Shipping in Canada is really expensive.”

Wyman has been pleased with his sales, even though he’s done nothing to advertise of promote his online business.

“I’ve shipped to New York, Florida, Los Angeles,” he said.

One thing that appeals to him is that his online store is open for business 24/7.

“I’ll be sitting somewhere and my cellphone pops up: ‘You’ve got an order.’

“If I could open up an online store and it does as well as my brick and mortar (business), that would be unbelievable — to have a store where you wake up in the morning and see what’s sold and ship it out.”

Wyman does have to package and mail the merchandise he sells via his website, but that’s not a big deal, he said.

Online selling is already spreading to unexpected products, like food.

Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development recently pointed out that Amazon has expanded its Canadian operations to include dry good food products — joining Costco, Walmart and some other small providers in online food retailing.

“If consumers adopt online grocery shopping and begin relying on an expanded and ever-more competitive market, Alberta’s grocers could be shaken unless they are prepared for this shift too,” said Jordan Mahar, a post-farmgate business analyst with the provincial department.

Despite its growth, Armstrong doesn’t think online selling will replace face-to-face transactions. Instead, stores are likely to do both, she said.

“For most retailers, it’s not a question of doing this platform versus that platform.

“It’s a merging of all of the platforms.”

Wyman agreed.

“I think it’s just a really good blend for your business to be able to have both services.”

He does plan to expand his online business, but that move may be as much about surviving in tomorrow’s marketplace as it is about capitalizing on an opportunity.

“I think that’s where stuff is kind of going,” said Wyman.

“You’ve got to keep with the times.”

hrichards@reddeeradvocate.com

 

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