Good Enough Should Never Be Good Enough
By Karisa Marra
When COVID-19 first arrived in Canada, many retailers – including convenience stores and carwashes – reduced their hours or closed stores while Canadians adhered to stay-at-home orders, depressing consumer demand for non-essentials. Eighteen months later, much has changed, and retailers have taken steps to future-proof their businesses, explore new revenue streams, and are set to thrive more than ever before. With brick-and-mortar stores shuttered almost overnight at the start of the pandemic, to stay afloat, retailers had no choice but to make changes to meet their customers where they were.
At Square, my team is constantly working to help solve the needs of businesses. We saw, for example, a huge increase in the number of sellers that created online stores in Canada; pre-COVID, 41 per cent of businesses sold online, but by March of 2021, that number was up to 61 per cent according to a national report we released earlier this year. In fact, Statistics Canada reported that the Canadian retail sector experienced a v-shaped recovery supported by sharp increases in online sales, with businesses rebounding to pre-pandemic levels by June 2020.
In addition to creating online stores, we witnessed many Canadian businesses coming up with creative solutions to meet the evolving needs of their customers. Grocery stores teamed up with breweries to create curated meal kits for customers to cook at home. Salons delivered custom-colour kits to allow clients to touch up their roots. Which begs the question: If adapting led some retailers to thrive – even amidst the most challenging economic conditions – why did many others wait so long?
We’ve learned many lessons in the past year-and-a-half that offer valuable opportunities for improvement moving forward.
One of these days is none of these days
The words from this proverb have never been more true. Countless businesses using Square’s tools in Canada have told us that they had planned to make various changes before the pandemic, but didn’t have a sense of urgency to implement such changes until they were absolutely essential.
Kait Waugh, owner of local shop Fat Plant Farm in Regina, SK, is a good example. She fell in love with succulents five years ago and segued her passion for plants into a thriving business. While growth has been steady since she opened her doors over three years ago, Fat Plant Farm really took off after she decided to open an online store in March 2020 and offer curbside pick-up and delivery services. These changes allowed her to keep business steady after the onset of COVID-19 restrictions and she tripled her sales in January 2021 over the same month last year.
One size doesn’t fit all. Every business is unique, and so too should be their technology solutions, with convenience stores and carwashes now lucky to have a wealth of customizable options for POS, ecommerce, and operations management tools to help them run their businesses and maximize efficiencies. For example, some convenience stores need an integrated loyalty program to reward customers while others want integrated invoicing to run their businesses. Carwashes sometimes need online booking capabilities while others prefer an elegant point of sale device with software that handles updates automatically and allows employees to track costs and monitor profits from anywhere.
With traffic returning to locations, these tools now enable businesses to expand their reach beyond their immediate, local customers, find new and different ways to sell and improve their operations. By looking for solutions that work for their specific, individual needs, including integrated tools and all-encompassing solutions, businesses can save themselves a great deal of time, which translates to saving money.
Cast a wider net
Throughout the prolonged pandemic disruptions, municipalities, business improvement areas (BIAs) and community groups worked hard to promote “shop local” initiatives to encourage residents to support their small business neighbours through a difficult economic time. And while customers should continue to be encouraged to shop local, we encourage businesses to cast as wide a net as possible.
While foot traffic is the primary sales channel for convenience stores, ecommerce solutions like Square Online provided incredible opportunities for businesses to maintain their customer base, even as Canadians were staying away from brick and mortar stores through the pandemic.
The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for businesses. Throughout the past 18 months it has also unveiled immense opportunities for them to adapt and grow. As retailers across the country continue to rise to the challenge, with the right tools and the willingness to adapt, we feel optimistic about the days ahead.
Karisa Marra is a business expert at Square Canada