The COVID-19 pandemic has presented businesses with a number of difficulties. To begin with, it has limited the ability to operate a traditional in-store business because of lockdowns or because of limited capacity for in-store customers. At the same time, for businesses in tourist hubs like Victoria, BC, it has limited your customer base given travel restrictions. Retail, tourism and restaurant businesses have been hit particularly hard by these difficulties. As a solution, many businesses have pivoted to eCommerce solutions so that they can continue to operate by selling both to local and global customers online. Unfortunately, the drastic and unexpected nature of the pandemic has often left businesses not fully equipped for this digital pivot.
In light of this, the BC government has created the Launch Online Grant Program, intended “to help over 1,500 eligible small- and medium-sized BC businesses adapt to changes in consumer behaviour and pivot to market their products online.” The Launch Online Grant Program offers $7,500 grants for businesses to either launch or update an online store so that they can increase sales, stay competitive, and ultimately grow. As part of the program, businesses must use BC marketing and technology companies to make these changes to their operations.
Given that these sorts of changes are our area of expertise, we wanted to relay some of the important ways that this grant can help you get through the pandemic, as well as flourish beyond this challenging time.
What Upgrades Are the Launch Online Grant Program Intended For?
The grant is intended to help businesses make specific upgrades. As it states, it is for businesses whose who currently do not have an online store or who have an online store that has “no more than three of the five identified online store features:
- Customer registration and information security features
- Shopping cart and order management capabilities
- Payment processing options including application of appropriate taxes and shipping costs at time of ordering
- Product catalogue, search and inventory status
- Website analytics and reporting capabilities.”
These features are central to running a successful online store and Launch Online provides the perfect opportunity to implement features that you don’t already have. Here are just a few benefits.
No Time Like the Present to Create a Website
As we said above, the pandemic has proved difficult for businesses. But having a website offers opportunities beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar store. Indeed, having a website allows you to reach a local and worldwide audience with the touch of a few buttons. If you don’t already have a website, there’s no time like the present to build one. Beyond the basic business benefits, the growth of eCommerce has resulted in several platforms, including Shopify, WordPress and Wix, that make website creation relatively straight-forward. Now is the time to build your online presence and your brand.
Growing Your Audience
Having a website makes it so that anyone in the world can find your products. But what’s the point if they can’t actually buy your products through your website? Online sales is the way of the digital marketplace and having a shopping cart, customer registration and security, and payment processing through your website is fundamental. To put this in context, the Canadian government estimates that Canada alone did $600 billion in eCommerce in 2020, and that number is expected to rise during 2021. Not having these features excludes you from this massive market, as well as the larger global market you can reach with a functional eCommerce website. While setting up these features might sound difficult, the growth of digital platforms has resulted in a number of options, including PayPal, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Stripe. In fact, your biggest problem might be picking which platform to use.
Managing Your Inventory
Of course, as you expand your consumer base you also want to keep track of inventory – completing a sale and realizing you don’t have the products to supply the customer might assure that they don’t return to your website. The grant is also intended to help create an online inventory. Connecting your payment platform to other platforms like Zoho Inventory can help you manage inventory, control stock, and fulfill orders seamlessly.
While shopping cart, customer registration and security, payment processing, and inventory features will help with sales, implementing website analytics and reporting will help you analyze and understand the customer journey from site visit to purchase. Analytics are intended to help you analyze how and why people make their way to your website, which helps you understand how to get more leads online or keep users engaged. Ultimately, the point of setting up analytics platforms is to track website performance to create a direct link between website content and business goals.
In this direction, platforms like Google Analytics help you understand customer interactions with your website by tracking key performance indicators like page visits and downloads. Moreover, drawing on customer’s and advertiser’s input, Google recently launched Google Analytics 4, or GA4, in order to better represent and aggregate user behaviour and data, while also taking into consideration concerns about data privacy and the possibility of a cookie-less world. All of this data is necessary to properly implement your marketing and business plan.
Launching or Upgrading your Website with RFDM
BC’s Launch Online Program provides a perfect opportunity to launch or update your website. The types of updates it is intended for are key to running a successful eCommerce business during the pandemic and beyond.