online stores toronto

Toronto retailers without online stores struggle to find a path forward during pandemic

As many retailers find online options to stay afloat during the pandemic, some stores that have always relied on a physical presence are having a tough time letting their customers know they’re still open for business.

Take Fresh Home & Garden, a showroom for elevated outdoor furniture, fabrics, accessories, giftware and green goods.

While Fresh has closed its physical store for the time being, they're still offering virtual appointments in an effort to make sales during what would normally be their busy season.

The problem is, they don't have an online store with prices and the ability to complete a purchase like your typical furniture retailers EQ3, Design within Reach or Ikea.

Instead, Fresh allows customers to view and select furniture through video appointments. During these one -on-one sessions they can have their questions answered and then place an order via email or phone. Products are then sent to the customer by contact-free delivery.

Ian Beck, owner and manager of Fresh, says business is down and it's not just because his website isn't built for e-commerce.

Beck believes the main issue contributing to decreased sales is the inability for customers to come into the showroom. He says overcoming this issue has been a challenge.

“At the end of the day, if they can’t touch and feel it or sit in it, it's very difficult to make the decision,” he says.

Beck acknowledges that stores that have invested in robost e-commerce platforms prior to the pandemic have a distinct advantage. 

 “I've heard anecdotally that some of the big box retailers are seeing some tremendous sales increases in terms of their online click through and ordering,” Beck suggests.

Beck says that big box retailers also have an advantage to selling online because of their flexible return policy. If a person doesn’t like the item as much in person as they did viewing it on the website they can return it later.

But Fresh is a high-end, boutique retailer. “[And] when you're a boutique retailer, we don't have that same sort of policy,” Beck admits.

Souvenir Studios in Brockton Village is a shop that, like Fresh, has physicality and experience at its core, something not easily conveyed virtually.

Items sold in the the store are often displayed as though they’re in a gallery.

 since she opened the store five years ago. But she's always tinkered with the idea of adding an e-commerce component to her business.

An online shop for Souvenir Studios has been on owner Danielle Suppa’s mind for years. But because Souvenir is a lifestyle concept shop, the idea of trying to translate the physical space to the online realm held Suppa back.

She's now expedited its launch to next month because of the pandemic. 

Suppa says she’s mindful of the uncertainty surrounding the lifting of social distancing measures and so the online shop has become more of a necessity. 

“I think it's really important to sustain the business going forward. I think the online store will become very important to our overall livelihood and getting through this in the longer term.”

Lead photo by Hector Vasquez

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