Four tips for small businesses in e-commerce, according to PayPal Canada

Small businesses in smaller, farther-off regions of Canada, fear not – PayPal Canada has just released a list of the 10 cities who have processed the most amount of money through their system, and it turns out small cities don’t do too shabby when it comes to selling products online.

With the list encompassing sales processed within the last year, topping off the list is Toronto, followed by Vancouver and Montreal. That may come as no surprise, but there were also a number of smaller cities edging their way into the top 10, like Victoria, B.C., and Laval, Que. While this is the first time PayPal has provided Canadian data, it did not provide specific numbers on money or number of merchants. The full list of 10 cities can be found here.

What this means is that entrepreneurs in smaller towns aren’t disadvantaged by being in areas with smaller populations, as long as they can leverage e-commerce to reach out to customers beyond the city limits, says Darrell MacMullin, managing director of PayPal Canada.

“It’s never been an easier time to build an online presence than it has today. The cost to build a very slick, very professional-looking site – you can be up and running in minutes,” he says, adding he once timed itself while creating an e-commerce site, which took all of six minutes.

Based on a conversation with MacMullin, we rounded up a list of tips that may come in handy for any small to mid-sized business (SMB) looking to jump into the e-commerce space.

1. Recognize there’s no longer a division between online and offline worlds.

Tempting as it may be to think of e-commerce and brick-and-mortar stores as separate realms, MacMullin says nowadays, you need to think of these two areas in tandem.

“It’s not about online and offline anymore. There’s one line, and it’s called commerce,” he says.

Think of it this way – consumers out shopping for holiday gifts won’t think about only purchasing items online, or just purchasing offline, he says. For example, they might see something in a brick and mortar store, decide they want to buy it, and realize they don’t have enough time to stop in and line up at the cash register. So they’ll go home and buy it online and have it conveniently shipped to their door instead.

And nowadays, people don’t usually wander into restaurants they’ve never tried without checking out online reviews, reading the menu on the restaurant’s site, or taking to social media to check out pictures of popular dishes.

What this all means is that it’s really important for SMBs to maintain a good Web site, he says.

“If you don’t have the right presence online, you’re missing the opportunity, perhaps for offline sales,” MacMullin says. “Ultimately, they’re going to come to your site, making it a turnkey to help them complete their purchase, maybe with PayPal helping to complete the final mile.”

(Image: PayPal Canada and TouchBistro). PayPal Canada and TouchBistro's point of sale solution for restaurants in Toronto.
(Image: PayPal Canada and TouchBistro). PayPal Canada and TouchBistro’s point of sale solution for restaurants in Toronto.

There’s also room for brick and mortar stores to get involved, he adds. In August, PayPal Canada and TouchBistro launched the pilot phase of a project to put PayPal-friendly point of sale terminals in restaurants and cafes. Jimmy’s Coffee in downtown Toronto was the first location, but the project has since expanded to about 10 establishments in the city, including Soma Chocolatemaker and Spirit House in the city’s King West area.

2. Look outside your area to find new customers and generate new leads.

One of the reasons why smaller cities like Victoria and Laval have gotten so much clout in the e-commerce space is that merchants there are selling their products worldwide, MacMullin says.

“I think the one element that always amazes me is that when we talk to large businesses in this country, they’re predominantly focused on this market,” he says. “And small businesses offline are typically focused on their small geographic area … but as soon as SMBs invest in online, they’re immediately focused on, how many customers can I get access to around the world?”

The advantage of using a service like PayPal is that SMBs don’t need to worry about accepting different credit cards, as long as their customers are using PayPal, he adds. It doesn’t matter if their bank is located in Denmark – a customer’s credit card can be linked to PayPal and it can be easy for the SMB to process the payment.

3. Make sure you’re getting your brand and product front and centre.

While having a user-friendly, visually appealing Web site is definitely a good starting point, it’s also important to make your presence known online through other channels, MacMullin says.

“Having an online site just by itself probably isn’t enough, because then you’re playing the game of, you’re a destination, just like you’re a destination offline,” he says.

“But it’s not about trying to spend all your money to get people to your Web site through search engine marketing and stuff like that. It’s about distributing your information and your offering online as well.”

(Image: Facebook). Facebook Graph Search.
(Image: Facebook). Facebook Graph Search.

He points to resources like Facebook for Business, as well as its Graph Search feature. But he says it’s also key for SMBs to try to reach out to thought leaders in their spaces. For example, if your SMB sells children’s clothing, then it may be worth reaching out to mommy bloggers and asking to contribute posts to their sites, he says.

4. Spend time engaging with your customers.

While it may seem as though enterprise organizations have all the advantages when it comes to their pool of resources, SMBs can really shine here, MacMullin says.

“Building that relationship between online and offline and connecting the two is that opportunity that actually, small to medium-sized businesses can probably execute [on this] better than the big guys. Because what customers are really striving for today is personalization in service,” he says.

“And the little guys can probably deliver on that more effectively … It’s an opportunity to continue engagement with your customers.”

And if you’re not delving into data already, this may be the time to do it, MacMullin says. Right now, it seems as though it’s mostly large organizations that have the time, tools, and employees to harness big data and to follow customer behaviour.

That being said, SMBs can at least continue to engage with customers by seeing when they have put items in their shopping cart, and following up later to see if customers still want to purchase their items.

Plus, e-commerce sites integrated with PayPal can also identify which devices customers are using to access their pages, he adds. For example, if a customer is viewing an e-commerce site with an iPhone, the site will become optimized to their device’s screen size. If a customer goes to pay for a product, it will be much easier to input a credit card number or shipping address if the screen is responsive to their device, MacMullin says. Making small changes like this can boost revenue for an SMB’s online store, he adds.

“Any merchant that just looks at building a Web site like a digital catalogue has missed the opportunity,” he says.

“The real opportunity is about engaging customers in the pre-decision process in a whole bunch of different ways and in building the relationship through an online-offline relationship.”

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Candice So
Candice So
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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