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E-commerce still crucial in today's world, despite Shopify slide

Local business leaders tout the power of e-commerce, but with more people returning to in-person shopping at local stores, believe websites could be seen as a brochure before heading downtown
(stock photo)

Don't let Shopify's latest news fool you: e-commerce is still very much alive and strong in today's world.

Even if it means consumers are merely using websites to window shop before going into the store to buy in-person.

That seems to be the sentiment for local businesses, as more people return to in-person shopping without COVID-19 restrictions.

"(A retailer's website is) kind of like a brochure that paints a picture for a lot of businesses, that show the kind of things they have," said Marty Williams, executive director of the Downtown Guelph Business Association.

He said the online presence allows people from all over the world to shop locally, and is one of the many reasons the online presence will always have an importance. But shopping downtown, Williams added, will be for the majority of people an "experiential thing."

"That's really our stock and trade," he said. "You go to the bike store and they're just people who know what they're doing. If you go buy a bike in a larger retailer that happens to sell bikes, the likelihood of you getting advice about the right bike for you is very slight because they're not hiring bike experts, they just happen to be retailing some bikes in a larger format store.

"We're always going to have that kind of experience, and that kind of strength in downtown."

Shopify reported a US$1.2 billion loss in the last quarter, and laid off about 10 per cent of its staff after it was reported by the company's president that they misjudged the growth of the online market.

That's not phasing business leaders, including the head of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

"E-commerce is still a growing and necessary platform for business success, especially in the retail industry," said president and CEO Shakiba Shayani in an emailed statement. "There is also still a lot of value in brick-and-mortar locations, especially after having the in-person experience taken away for so long due to the pandemic. Consumers appreciate the tactile, hands-on experience inside stores. 

"E-commerce does allow businesses to better manage inventory and expand options and offerings and should continue to be used to expand reach and stay competitive."

"I think Shopify is still the answer for small independent businesses who want to have some presence online," added Williams. "But the switch to online was always going to be a temporary thing (during the pandemic)."

If anything, restrictions allowed local businesses to improvise, think outside the box and do business differently.

"We saw some really creative things happen," Williams said. "Many people, including us as an organization, jumped onto an e-commerce platform (selling gift certificates through Shopify)."

Spokespeople for the Ottawa-based company, which also has an office in Waterloo, said they're confident they'll turn things around, even with inflation playing a role in shopping habits.

And Williams said he's rooting for them.

"They're a great Canadian company," he said. "They employ lots of Canadian folks, they keep smart techy people in the country.

"We have to hope for their success, and hope that it's a rebound for them too, and they get it sorted out."