Category Archives for "Retail"

Tips to Improve your Brand Strength

By Randall Orser | Employees , marketing strategy , Retail , Small Business

For your business to have a competitive advantage you need to have a brand that is strong and authentic.  It takes a long time and lots of persistence to build your brand but the benefits are worth the work.  A strong brand has advantages inside your company and in attracting customers.

  • If your brand is strong you are more likely to attract the best talent.  Not many job seekers will apply to company that has a bad reputation.
  • Your profits will increase as many customers are willing to pay more for products that they trust and value.  
  • More loyal customers, customers will accept higher prices and will come back for more.  Over 40% of consumers say that brand consistency is important when deciding if they will be a loyal customer.  
  • During an economic crisis consumers will look for a strong brand with a competitive edge over weaker competitors and shareholders are more likely to value the brand's potential.
  • Brand equity will give your company the maximum chance of coming back from any negative publicity.

How can you develop a strong brand?

  • Know what your brand's purpose and passion is and why your business exists, these are the basic building blocks.  You then need to define your ideal customer and what your products can offer them.  Get feedback from your target market and cultivate customer relationships to get their feedback.
  • Create a set of brand identity guidelines that are comprehensive and distributed throughout your company and beyond.
  • It is important that you continually communicate with your customers to make sure that your message is resonating with them.  Your brand message should not change during the life of your company. However it can grow and adjust slightly to suit your audience but it should continue to be something that your customers recognizes.  
  • When you update your logo and marketing materials make sure that your logo remains standard and easily recognizable on advertisements and social media.
  • Always be consistent this will continue to build your brand strength.  Consumers will try something new from you if you are always consistent in your message and product quality.  They are not likely to react well to anything that does not align with the company values and image that they are familiar with.

Creating a strong brand takes a lot of effort and expertise and can only take your business so far.  So it is important to target the right potential customer.  You will never please everyone so target people with similar values and beliefs.  What can you offer that is unique to your company and makes you different from your competition so that you stand out and are able to connect with your customers.

From an article by Justin A Staples

Why Customer Reviews are Even More Important for your Business

By Randall Orser | Business , Employees , Retail

As more people are shopping and doing business online customer reviews have become more important.  You might think that getting critical or bad reviews may be damaging to your business but that is not always the case.  Customer reviews are an important consideration for new customers and should be encouraged. Customers are doing much more online research before making a purchase and 90% of them read online reviews before visiting a business.  

A recent survey showed that online review engagement has more than doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.  More people are doing business online and cautious customers are reading reviews so that they know what to expect when they visit your business.  You are more likely to get a visit from new customers if they see reviews from other happy customers who rave about your business and employees and that it is run safely.

Reviews build your credibility - reviews are a large part of the online reputation of your business and can greatly enhance customer trust.  88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations and 72% say that positive reviews help that to have trust in a local business.

Reviews increase sales - When potential customers read reviews they are more likely to purchase something if other people have already done so.  The concept of people following the actions of the masses is called "Social Proof".  As more people are likely to enter a busy restaurant than an empty one customers are more likely to make a purchase if they believe that it is a good one.  

An Invesp infographic showed that:

  • 72% of consumers will only purchase after reading a positive review
  • 92% of people will buy from a local business if it has at least a 4-star review
  • Consumers are more likely to purchase 31% more from a business with excellent reviews.

Reviews give you the chance to interact with your customers - You can reinforce positive comments with thanks and rectify negative ones by showing that you care and solving any problems.  Interaction with your customers is very important to make them remember your brand and this works both ways good and bad.  Interactions with your customers help to build brand loyalty and support for your business and make them more likely to recommend you in the future.

Here are some of the most important review platforms that you should considerate to collect reviews for your business:

Google My Business - is a free tool for businesses to manage their online presence across google. Once a business verifies their information and complete their Google my business registration the users can start to leave reviews.   Google customer reviews show up in searches improve SEO.

Facebook - is an important business review site. Businesses need to create a Facebook business profile and the process of leaving reviews is easy for customers as most already have a Facebook account.

Yelp - is the largest platform for online customer reviews and can be useful to any kind of business.  It has many useful review management tools and allows businesses to reply privately and publicly to customers who have posted reviews about them.

Tripadvisor - is the world's largest travel website and businesses can list on there for free. It increases exposure to a qualified audience and is ideal for travel related businesses such as accommodations, restaurants and attractions.

Better Business Bureau - is a business rated review system that educates consumers and assists them in finding trusted businesses.  A company profile on BBB will have a short bio, a history of any complaints about the business and a rating from A to F.

All businesses benefit from an online presence and customer reviews.  They give customers the best experience that they can and reviews let more people know about it.

From an article by Claudia Labonte-Kudzman

Building Better Business and Customer Service in 2021

By Randall Orser | Business , Employees , Retail , Small Business

In 2021 most businesses are looking for ways to rebound from the disastrous year that was 2020.  As well as dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, there are many new variables affecting business such as how products and services are offered and delivered which will have an impact well into 2021 and beyond.  There are also other market forces to consider including the impact of big-box stores and being able to offer a fast delivery service that customers now expect.

According to "Go-Daddy" half of the businesses that they surveyed had a website or active social media account before the pandemic hit.  The number has now almost doubled but businesses who want to maintain their market share in 2021 will have to go further and adopt platforms that do everything in one place, sales, email communication and marketing.  When businesses improve their digital systems and at the same time continue to offer top class customer service they are more likely to survive.  This could include using the Canadian platform Shopify so customers can order and pay online, and then offering them the bonus of fast local delivery.  For those businesses who are behind in creating a digital presence they should be thinking seriously about investing in online in 2021.

For those businesses who are wondering how they can compete with the fast delivery service offered by Amazon, or the prices offered by the big box stores the answer is don't.  It is better to work on offering what the big retailers don't - excellent customer service and the personal touch.  Once you have an online platform to offer customers a fast and easy ordering service, expand on that by offering free local deliveries, discounts for in-store pick up, curb-side pick-up, and personalized invitations on key dates such as birthdays and anniversaries.  

To make your customer's experience at your store memorable think about offering little extras such as a hand written thank you note attached to the bag, or a small free gift in the bag such as a chocolate, pen, bookmark, fridge magnet etc.

When you are building your brand it is important to work on earning customer loyalty, not only do you need them to return to your store for more of your products or services but also to recommend you to their friends, relatives and colleagues.  You need to tap into what is important to your clients.  If they like to support their local stores provide them with a branded reusable shopping bag.  Remembering their names and the names of their children will make them feel special.  Encourage repeat customers by offering VIP offers or discounts.  Positive interaction with your clients goes a long way to advertise your business and good service is always appreciated even from a distance.

From an article by iCapital

Big Grocer is Watching you!

By Randall Orser | Business , marketing strategy , Retail

Did you know that grocers are using artificial intelligence to make shopping faster, easier and far more trackable?  The new technology that they are using will one day, (and that is not too far away) allow you to put your shopping in your cart, and go straight to your car, load up and head home with no human contact and without having to wait in the checkout line or tap your debit or credit card. Sound unbelievable? well it is already in place and depending on how you look at what is really happening here you might see it as a good thing or a bad thing.

The new smart carts being rolled out have their own scanner so that customers can scan the items with barcodes before putting them into the cart.  If items do not have a barcode the cart's sensors will weigh them.  In the future we can expect the carts to have cameras, artificial intelligence and machine learning to recognize items placed into them without the use of a barcode. This invisible checkout system has been used in Asia for several years and it is now getting more and more available in North America.  The Amazon Go Grocery outlet opened in Seattle this year and at some Walmart urban super centre locations where customers can use the My Walmart app to scan products as they shop, bypassing checkout lines.  They pay via smartphone using a credit card already registered with the store and then exit through Fast Lane checkouts. 

For the consumer this is an ideal way to shop, they have control over the time they spend shopping and can choose their own produce, still impulse buy, monitor their grocery purchases to stay within their budget, avoid line-ups, and avoid having to pay (at least until their credit card statement arrives).

Behind the scenes the advantages for the grocer is that they can gather data about shoppers and their habits.  They are already doing this when you use your "Save on More" or equivalent card they can see what you buy and tailor their advertising emails to you to suggest discounts on items that you normally buy.   Grocery stores generate around $7 billion a month in sales and this is still growing.  

It is hoped that this automation will not mean that many people will lose their jobs, but instead will be moved to the sales floor to interact more with customers and answer questions about products, however some job losses will be inevitable.

From an article by Charlene Rooke

Do Businesses Need Better Access to Rent Subsidies?

By Randall Orser | Business , Retail

Though the emergency wage subsidies that the Government of Canada put in place have been reasonably successful according to Laura Jones the executive vice-president and chief strategic officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program has been a failure.

When tens of thousands of businesses were forced to shut down at the start of the pandemic many of these were immediately unable to pay their rent.  Though most financial experts recommend having at least a three month rainy day fund most businesses did not have that luxury before the crisis and and definitely do not now after an extended period of lost revenue and reduced operating hours.  Now so far into the pandemic even the most established businesses have drained their rainy day funds.  Back in June a survey showed that 50% of business owners could not make their rent without government help and 22% feared eviction.

Financial experts do not see an improvement in the situation going into 2021 so government relief programs will be of the highest important to support small businesses.   The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program has been a failure even though on paper it looked like a good idea.  Tenants would get a 75% break on their rent with provincial and federal governments kicking in 50% that is paid to the landlord with the landlord agreeing to take a 25% reduction in the total rent, in this way the burden would be shared.

There were two problems with this program, firstly the landlord has to agree to participate but many landlords want full rent so have not signed up.  Secondly only businesses who have suffered a 70% loss of revenue are eligible, this high amount means that many businesses are not eligible.  From this information it is not surprising that the finance department only spent less than 10% of it's committed funding on the CECRA program.  

Now that the CECRA has ended it is hoped that the a new commercial rent relief program will be rolled out that will allow tenants to access the 50% of government provided rent relief with or without the participation of their landlord and reducing the 70% loss of monthly revenue eligibility to something more reasonable.  As we are now in the second wave of the pandemic these changes are needed for the present and the foreseeable future.

From an article by Ali Amad

Will Wage Subsidies Help Retail Businesses?

By Randall Orser | Budget , Covid-19 , Employees , Retail , Small Business

Though the lockdown of last Spring was the right thing to do to keep people safe and flatten the curve, but it did a huge amount of damage to the economy.  Canadian retailers saw a 26% fall in sales during quarantine and 40% of retailers had to close their doors.  

Stores offering non-essential products and services such as clothing stores were the hardest hit, along with gas stations as people were no longer travelling.  However those selling essential goods found themselves thriving and even experiencing surging sales such as in groceries, home renovations, alcohol and cannabis.

Canadian retailers have been slow to transition to on-line sales but the pandemic has forced them to adopt e-commerce techologies to try and keep themselves in business and as a result e-commerce sales have more than doubled year over year.  Although it means that Canadian retailers face competition from others worldwide it also gives them the opportunity to expand their market share at home, especially if they sell niche products.  

In 2021 it is likely that retail business will still suffer a bumpy ride.  As we are seeing now there will probably be sporadic shut downs due to minor outbreaks but these are likely to be more regional.  During this time retailers can expect sales to fall and they will have to deal with high labour costs and the costs of having to comply with health regulations but it is hoped that on-line sales will be a stop-gap solution to keep them in business.

The federal government is continuing to support businesses by extending the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program into 2021, coving 75% of employees wages for those that are eligible.  This will help retailers to avoid bankruptcy and will give employees more disposable income to spend.  

Even with these new ways of doing business and federal help it is unlikely that many in the retail sector will survive another major lockdown.  However localized shutdowns will allow the majority of retailers to stay open and keep some revenue coming in until a vaccine arrives.

From an article by Ali Amad

Business Continuity in a Crisis

By Randall Orser | Business , Covid-19 , Retail

Unplanned events can have a devastating effect on businesses and the beginning of the pandemic was definitely no exception.  As consumers stockpiled goods, stores and their supply chains struggled to keep up and keep shelves stocked.  What came out of this situation is the need for senior decision makers to have risk-management and crisis planning strategies in place.

If a business is to survive in a crisis it is important to have:

  • A well tested business continuity plan already in place 
  • Strong leadership to ensure swift and decisive action in response to a crisis
  • Quick and honest communications with employees, shareholders and other stakeholders and where appropriate the media
  • Compassion for employees and customers impacted by the crisis
  • Being prepared to adopt alternative working, technological or communication systems, including changes to company operations, providing personal protective equipment, continuous sanitizing of workspaces and equipment, training staff in new protocols, and where appropriate facilitating remote working for employees.
  • Having access to financial and other resources to help absorb the costs of the crisis, an early and aggressive review of cash flow and the development of a cash management plan

Unfortunately the Covid-19 crisis unfolded without much warning so it was difficult for businesses to make preparations beforehand. It was and is important for businesses to take advantage of all the help available from governments and other organizations.  There the operations of the business should be continuously reviewed and changes made when necessary.  Everyone involved with the business should be kept fully apprised of all changes to business operations.  Managers must be given the resources to be able to act quickly, decisively and effectively and they should know how to access external help and advice.

From an article by CPA Canada

Be Wary of Adding a Covid-19 Surcharge to your Business

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail , Small Business

As businesses reopen they have to try and make up lost revenue while at the same time having additional operating expenses due to Covid-19.  According to a survey in May by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) 70% of Canadian businesses reported a 30% drop in revenue and the other 30% reported a 40% drop.  On top of these losses businesses have had to cover the cost of the new health and safety protocols including social distancing, cleaning, sanitizing and personal protective equipment.

To try and offset these new expenses some businesses have introduced a Covid-19 surcharge a fixed amount or percentage which is added to the total bill.  While this surcharge is understandable because of the extra cost of dealing with customers during the pandemic, there are some considerations that should be made prior to passing these costs onto the customer.

1.  Consider the ways that you can make extra revenue - these could include making the surcharge optional or donation based, adjusting services or products offered or increasing prices.  The pandemic has had a greater impact on small businesses but they should still take time to consider what is the best way for them to adjust to this new norm and whether it will be temporary or permanent.  They should make sure that they have exhausted all government relief options before charging customers extra.   It should also be a time to focus on giving exceptional service to clients so as to not lose the ones that you have.  If you do apply a surcharge customers need to understand that it is due to the additional costs to reopen your business.

2.  If a surcharge is the right action for your business you need to decide to how you will calculate this additional fee - either as a percentage of the total bill or a fixed amount and it is important to remove it as soon as restrictions are lifted and your business goes back to normal.  Customers need to know that this surcharge is for a specific time and the cut off date will be honoured by your business.  The last thing that you need is for your clients to perceive that you are gouging in a time when everyone is going through financial difficulties.   It is important to inform customers of this extra charge in advance and explain why it is being implemented.

3.  Be upfront and honest with your customers - you need to clearly communicate to your clients the the surcharge is in place long before they reach your checkout.  Customers would rather know in advance so that they can make the decision whether or not to make the business transaction with you.  You should post on your website and social media, inform customers when they make an appointment or during phone calls, and make sure there is a notice posted on your store window or door.  

The response from consumers to paying a surcharge has been varied depending upon the industry type or products offered.  Once they understand why they are being charged extra most people are supportive especially if they know that there is an end date and they know that it is not an opportunity for the business to extra money.

From an article by Sophie Nicholls Jones

Will Covid-19 Change Grocery Shopping Forever?

By Randall Orser | Covid-19 , Retail

Before Covid-19 many of us enjoyed grocery shopping often making multiple trips a week to get fresh ingredients for a special meal.  Today, what was a simple chore has become a stressful challenge as many Canadians feel like they are preparing themselves for a battle wearing a mask, hand sanitizing, lining up to enter the store, following store aisle signage and keeping six feet away from other shoppers. 

Supermarkets have had to work hard to navigate Covid-19 and plan for the future.  From dealing with panic buying, empty shelves and customer complaints to the present foot traffic restrictions, taped markings on floors, dedicated hours for vulnerable shoppers to one way shopping aisles and plexiglas screens separating cashiers from customers.

Not only shoppers are nervous, store employees who have been designated front line workers have been at a heightened risk since the pandemic started.  Safety measures for them only arrived gradually and well after community transmission was underway.  As a way of recognizing the risk that their employees were working under, four of Canada's main grocery chains increased their hourly wages.  In addition the federal government announced it would allocate $3 billion to top up the wages of frontline workers and another billion came from the provinces.  However it is unclear how much will go to grocery workers and how long it will be for.  

The biggest change in the grocery market is that people have changed to buying on-line.  Many of us will remember at the start of the pandemic trying to order a food delivery and finding that all delivery slots were filled for an endless number of weeks. Before the pandemic only 4% of Canadians shopped for groceries on-line this has now jumped to 22% and grocery subscription and meal kit services are also booming.

Grocery stores have had to adapt rapidly on multiple fronts, expanding on-line shopping infrastructure, monitoring inventory more closely, and increasing health and safety measures for shoppers and employees.  They are also having to fend of competition from new players in the direct to consumer market from restaurants, food delivery services, farmers markets and individual markets.  Grocery store business could be forever changed by the change in customer preferences which may grow stronger rather than decline during and when the pandemic is over.

From an article by Rebecca Tucker

Charging PST on Online Sales

By Randall Orser | On-line sales , Sales Taxes , Small Business

If you are a business that does online sales have to collect and remit taxes just the same as if you had a bricks and mortar business.  This means that you will need to charge and remit other province's sales taxes and different rules in different provinces can make this process complicated.  

Businesses need to register as a provincial sales tax vendor with each province where they will be doing business. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done get around this additional paperwork and bookkeeping, except for to limit the provinces where you ship goods, for example if businesses only sell products to consumers in their own province or if they only sell non-taxable goods and services.

Provincial sales taxes vary by province. There is also the goods and services tax and some provinces use the harmonized sales tax which combines the GST with their provincial sales tax.   For businesses selling only within their own province or territory they only need to follow the rules for their province, but for those selling to other provinces they must charge taxes according to the rules in those provinces.  

  • In BC if the business specifically targets customers in BC through advertising or similar means that they are targeting customers in that province and they are therefore expected to collect and remit PST.
  • In Manitoba out of province businesses must register as a vendor if they solicit sales, the orders originate, the goods are used or goods are shipped to that province.
  • In Saskatchewan all businesses selling online order to customers there are expected to collect and remit PST.
  • In Quebec out of province businesses must register before selling goods to residents there.
  • In Alberta, Nunavut and the Yukon there is no PST.
  • New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario charge the HST.
  • BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Saskatchewan charge the GST and a PST.


From an article by Susan Ward