Is your Internet business connected?

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Digital products online offer new alternatives, and new opportunities

THUNDER BAY – Business – Is your Internet business connected? In our ever increasingly connected world shopping online is increasingly common. The online shopping market in Canada represents $18.5 billion annually in sales, according to the latest figures from eMarketer. 

The top gainers in the ecommerce market in Canada include: Amazon, Apple, Best Buy/Future Shop, Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Sears, Bell, Costco, Home Depot, Toys R Us, Staples, Hudson’s Bay Co., Chapters.Indigo, Ikea, Rona and The Source.

Connecting Internet business boosts sales

Often smaller companies decide that they cannot compete with the ‘big boys’. The effort invested in digital product and business solutions for many small businesses in Canada is far less than it could, or should be. 

Getting your share of the growing online audience is key for the future of your business

According to a recent RBC small business survey, only 46 per cent of Canadian small businesses have a dedicated website, and less than half (48 per cent) of those businesses say they sell their products and services through their websites.

Thunder Bay, and Northwestern Ontario businesses have to be on the bleeding edge of innovation. Our historic distance isolation does not exist online.

Perhaps it is attitude?

In Thunder Bay there is a growing online audience. There are well over 17 million Canadians who are on Facebook. In Thunder Bay, 73,780 Facebook accounts are online. Even discounting that half of those accounts could be inactive, it is a huge market.

If that many people were driving by your store would you ignore a potential audience of 35,000 people? Or would your sales and marketing strategy have a huge presence?

The growing audience of smartphones, the Iphone, Blackberry, and Samsung phones are very popular in our city. Shoppers can instantly check prices while they are in your shop, and decide if the service you are offering with the purchase is enough to justify the price.

Many businesses, especially restaurants offer WiFi. Yet there are some large local restaurants that seem unwilling to realize the importance of high speed Internet for their business customers. 

The world is changing. The knowledge-based economy might not be on the lips of many politicians lately, but it is key in the minds and bank accounts of successful small businesses. Traditional marketing is changing. Keeping a toe in the past is alright, but heading into the new frontier will be critical for future survival of your business.

Businesses need to be visible where consumers choose to be

Internet Cyber SecurityWhen millions of customers are shopping online, your online presence is a 24/7/365 place that is always open.

“With the majority of consumers choosing to research and shop for products and services online, businesses without a web presence are missing a significant opportunity,” says Jim Mulligan, national director, Retail, RBC Royal Bank. “Businesses need to be visible where consumers choose to be, so investing in an online strategy is fundamental to attract new customers and stay competitive.”

In fact, 56 per cent of the entrepreneurs in the survey rate finding and keeping clients as one of the top business challenges that they will face over the next year, yet only 41 per cent of those surveyed promote their business using a dedicated website.

In Thunder Bay, for local businesses, the impact of online shopping can be easily demonstrated. Take a trip to Ryden’s Border Store, and check out the warehouse. Each of those cardboard boxes, shipped to the Ontario/Minnesota border represent lost sales, and lost opportunities.

Small Internet business can run circles around the big boys

According to Statistics Canada, more than 80 per cent of the Canadian population is online; and a report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts that Canada’s Internet economy will grow 7.4 per cent annually through 2016. Although this represents a significant opportunity for small businesses, twenty per cent of entrepreneurs admit that keeping up to date with technology is among their top challenges.

Cox Business states, “Small businesses are not letting big brands rule the school. By telling the right story, maximizing online presence, leveraging trends, competing on lead generation via inbound marketing and taking advantage of financial award programs, companies of all sizes can steal the show from Fortune 500 companies. Immediate access to online, mobile and social platforms and the value consumers place on a one-to-one relationship makes it easier and likely for small businesses to succeed in more ways everyday”.

“It is always challenging for small merchants to stay abreast of new technologies and to find the capital to grow their independent businesses,” said Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of Retail Council of Canada, adding that RBC in collaboration with Retail Council are investing in tools and resources to assist small merchants in capitalizing on the benefits of an online presence.

“Small merchant online and social media strategies can result in market growth and greater profitability,” noted Brisebois.

When it comes to social media, only 39 per cent of entrepreneurs surveyed say that they use social media to promote their business. In Thunder Bay that means ignoring a massive market. 42,380 people in Thunder Bay in the key 18-35 age demographic are online on Facebook. Growing numbers are on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn offers business activity online

LinkedIn Through LinkedIn, growing numbers of people are connecting with each other. Through LinkedIn, which some suggest is “Facebook for business”, you can find, connect and do Internet business with potential customers.

You can do that on Facebook as well, but many companies are concerned that allowing their employees access to Facebook at work will destroy productivity.

One focal point online of course is Google and Google+. While a number of experts have discounted Google+, that would be to discount Google. 

Ask yourself, where do you search online?

If you keep doing things the way you have in the past, will it grow your business? That is a question that all entrepreneurs and business owners should be asked themselves.

Social Media

The RBC’s Mulligan adds that engaging in social media offers many positive benefits for entrepreneurs, citing the following examples:

  • Improved market awareness;
  • More lead generation opportunities;
  • Increased relationship building opportunities with existing customers and prospects;
  • Better reputation monitoring; and
  • Additional traffic to existing web sites.

The RBC survey also found that four-in-10 (38 per cent) businesses that sell via their company website generate over 25 per cent of their revenue through their online sales, with two-in-10 (22 per cent) generating more than 50 per cent of their revenue this way.

The opportunities are there. It all comes down to choosing how to engage the audience – Getting your Internet business connected is key.

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