An online presence becomes all the more vital as more people shop on the web every year, but a recent study from The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) says, despite the obvious benefits, Canadian small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) continue to struggle developing a digital footprint.
More than 60 per cent of Canadians shop online in 2019 compared to 43 per cent in 2013, but as of 2017, almost half of Canadian SMBs did not even have a website.
“A lot of small businesses still don’t have a website. That sounds impossible to believe, but it’s the case and they don’t see the benefits of it. They also believe it’s very complicated and very expensive; which is not,” says Pierre Cléroux, BDC’s chief economist, in an interview with ITbusiness.ca. “It’s much cheaper now to have a website. And it’s much more simple than it used to be. But of course, a lot of businesses don’t believe that. So they’re still out of the technology world.”
Creating a website has never been cheaper, but Cléroux says he believes that small business owners don’t realize this yet. Among other things, it could be what’s holding them back. Equally as baffling, the report says that of the businesses that do have an online presence, only 40 per cent actually sell its services and products online.
Cléroux likens the need for an online presence and online sales to the time when the telephone became commonplace in society. It became absolutely necessary for businesses and it was ludicrous to operate a business without one.
“If you’re not online, you’re not visible. So people are really missing out. Nobody who does business will think about starting a business or having a business without the telephone. But now having a presence online, it’s almost like having a phone,” says Cléroux. “So it’s hard to believe that some people are still not connected or still not visible online. But that’s the reality.”
Although some refuse to engage with these technologies because they don’t feel comfortable in what they’re investing in, to dismiss something entirely because it scares you or you do not realize its importance should not hold you back, says Cléroux.
“I think they underestimate the benefits of selling online. What we are seeing now is really a gap between the ones who are online and the other ones. And this gap is going just to get bigger. So people who are not online, probably they don’t realize on what sells or you’re missing a month sales and not doing.”
Interestingly, while many would think of companies who are trying to monopolize e-commerce like Amazon.com, Inc. as a competitor in this space, Cléroux advises that those who are wary of the risks of adopting new technologies to look at them as a potential partner that could ease the complexity of jumping into this space.
“It shows in our study that it doesn’t matter… if you are selling directly on your website or if you’re using Amazon to sell your products. What is important is to be online… is to have a presence online and to be able to have consumers buy your products online. So Amazon in that way is helping many small businesses make it very easy for businesses to sell online. Amazon is at the same time a competitor, but it could also be a partner at the same time.”
The BDC study says it surveyed 1,485 business owners with activities outside their local markets.