Windsor businesses embrace e-commerce

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Windsor-area businesses have seized the lifeline presented by e-commerce in numbers unmatched in Canada during the COVID pandemic.


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San Francisco-based technology and e-commerce firm Square reports that 81 percent of the businesses it serves locally were selling their products and services online at the end of August. That’s 18 percent higher than the Ontario average and 23 percent above the national mark.

“E-commerce was a big part of our survival,” said Debra Purdy, owner of ShopEco.

“I’m not sure we would have made it without it.”

Purdy said ShopEco had a website when the first crash occurred in March 2020, but there were no online transactions. He used the first two weeks of the initial lockdown to develop an e-commerce strategy that included online shopping, curbside pickup, and delivery.

Purdy maintains a storefront in Tecumseh, but never reopened its Walkerville location to shop in person after the first closing.


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“E-commerce has gone from zero to 15 to 20 percent of our business,” Purdy said.

“E-commerce is no longer an option for business, it is an expectation. There is a limited population in Windsor, you have to communicate. “

Felipe Chacón, an economist at Square, said Windsor is “an outlier” in its rapid adoption of e-commerce.

He said 51 percent of local businesses offered put options online in March 2020 and it has stayed around 80 percent for the past five months.

By comparison, Norfolk County is the next highest adopter with 68%, followed by Ottawa (66), Hamilton (64), Kitchener-Waterloo 63 and Toronto (60).

Survey figures from 30 Canadian communities were compiled from Square’s customer base.

“Everywhere you saw an increase with the pandemic, but Windsor has been bigger and has continued,” said Chacón.


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“I think the reason is partly due to its isolated geography and being a border community.

“That has forced companies to seek new markets to survive.”

He added that e-commerce has been adopted more strongly in rural and medium-sized communities than in large cities in North America.

“The density of urban environments creates enough foot traffic for many businesses,” said Chacón. “Suburban and rural businesses have to make their presence known.”

Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rakesh Naidu believes designation of border communities as foreign trade zones also helps.

“Local businesses can ship up to US $ 830 worth of merchandise to US customers without tax,” Naidu said. “Combined with the US dollar exchange rate, that really works in our favor.”


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Purdy is still laying the groundwork to start shipping to the US, but has seen its customer base expand to British Columbia and Quebec.

“We’re getting a lot of orders from Montreal now,” said Purdy, who credited a FedDev Ontario grant for Women Entrepreneurs for helping her develop her online presence.

“We are also receiving orders from smaller cities and towns in southern Ontario.”

Naidu said he is “pleasantly surprised and encouraged” by the high rate of adoption of e-commerce by businesses in the area.

He said the number of companies with an online sales presence has doubled.

“COVID has made it imperative to have an online presence and that applies to all sectors of the economy,” Naidu said. “In the last two years we have seen about 10 years of digital transformation take place.”


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Naidu credits the buffet of programs, services, and funds that have been made available through Ontario’s Digital Main Street, FedDev Ontario, WEtech Alliance, the chamber, the local tourism board, and other organizations for the aggressive adoption rate.

“The biggest obstacles for many companies to their digital transformation is the lack of technological know-how and the lack of resources,” Naidu said.

“These programs were very helpful, as were the tech-savvy students who helped businesses establish their presence online.”

Purdy said the trend for more online commerce will only gain momentum in the future.

Even products like cars and homes are now routinely sold online without consumers seeing them firsthand.

“There is no going back,” Purdy said.

“People like deliveries. They like to order and just pick it up from the curb.

“People expect options and they want flexibility.”

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