Small Cowichan Valley businesses struggle to keep up in online world

Heather Scudder knows all about the growing trend for people to do their shopping online.

Karen Chong, co-owner of Chari-Teas on Craig Street in Duncan, hopes the store’s new website will assist the business reach more markets.

Karen Chong, co-owner of Chari-Teas on Craig Street in Duncan, hopes the store’s new website will assist the business reach more markets.

Heather Scudder knows all about the growing trend for people to do their shopping online.

But Scudder, owner of Khaya Home Decor & Gifts in downtown Duncan, is finding it difficult to keep up with these changing realties in the retail world.

Like many small businesses, she does have a website for people to browse through to see what her store offers.

But she lacks the computer skills to keep it updated on an ongoing basis, and doesn’t have the time in her busy day even if she did.

 

“I know I have to do it and I always intend to get organized, but it’s foreign to me and I find it to be a real headache,” Scudder said at her store on Kenneth Street.

“Many in my age group are having trouble with the digital age, but the Millennium generation are all shopping online these days, so it’s the way of the future.”

A report conducted by the Yellow pages, called “The Survival of Main Street Retail in a Digital World”, that was presented at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities during its meeting this spring states that, like Scudder, many Canadian retailers are having trouble keeping up with the digital marketplace.

According to the report, the digital capabilities of Canadian retailers, particularly those on main streets in neighbourhoods across the country, lag considerably behind those of their global counterparts.

Ironically, at the same time, the digital capabilities of the Canadian consumer outpace most other consumers around the world.

The report concluded that the changing nature of retail in the country means that those local retailers who are not keeping up with the new digital environments and habits are being left “very far behind”.

It’s a concern that Yolanda Sanz is taking seriously.

Sanz is the co-owner of Chari-Teas on Craig Street in Duncan and she said that she has just started a website that lists the almost 300 types of tea the store sells, and allows customers to order them online.

“We get a lot of tourists from other provinces and across the world that come in to the shop, like our unique tea selection, and ask how they can order our teas online,” she said.

“After more than six years in business, that was enough motivation for us to finally get this website started and I think it will be a real boost to the business.”

Cathy Robertson is the manager of Community Futures Cowichan, which has a mandate to help local small businesses succeed.

She acknowledged that many business owners, particularly those who are older, find the idea of selling in the digital marketplace “scary”.

But she said those that don’t are taking the risk of making themselves and their stores irrelevant in an increasingly technical world.

“Statistics show that at least 80 per cent of today’s consumers get informed about products online before they pull the trigger and actually buy something, and I personally believe the number is even higher than that,” Robertson said.

“If stores don’t have good websites, or no websites at all, then they are not even in the game anymore.”

Robertson said local organizations, like Community Futures Cowichan, the Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and the Duncan Business Improvement Area Society, have a role to play in assisting small businesses to adapt to the new digital reality.

She said there are government grants available to assist, and the groups can pool their resources to sponsor workshops on the subject, and/or bring in consultants to help business people with the transition to the online marketplace, among other strategies.

“We have to start a conversation in the community,” Robertson said.

“Other communities are also experiencing the same issue, so there are already some best practices out there for us to learn from.”

Robertson said Telus has just recently installed its advanced wireless and wireline broadband networks in the Valley, so the infrastructure is in place to take full advantage of today’s communication technologies.

Cowichan Valley Citizen

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