Navigating an uncertain future for businesses in 2021

by Garrick Tiplady – Managing Director, Facebook and Instagram Canada

As published in Bay Street Bull

2020 showed us how quickly the world can change. In just a few months, the global pandemic transformed the way we live, work, shop, and connect with each other. With a continued focus on public health and as many of us adapt to restrictions in place across Canada, we must brace ourselves for another year of change. And yet, as Canadian brands and businesses look to chart a path forward, there is so much we can learn from the consumer trends that have emerged during this period of unrest.

Small businesses have traditionally relied on local foot-traffic to drive sales. With fewer people walking into neighbourhood shops and restaurants, the pandemic has fundamentally changed people’s path to purchase and the way they discover new brands. Thinking back to the last thing I bought, I shopped online from a business that offered contactless delivery and a thank-you note from the shop owner was included in the package. For small businesses, there’s a lot to take away from this ‘new normal’ shopping routine. Heading into 2021, businesses must invest in e-commerce, prioritize convenience alongside health and safety, and communicate brand values through personalized messages to breakthrough.

E-commerce is no longer a nice-to-have, it is necessary for survival. Over half of consumers say they spend more online now compared to earlier this year, and for some, online shopping remains their preferred option despite stores re-opening. In fact, 70% of Canadian consumers say they will continue to buy the same amount online, if not more, rather than through traditional channels. It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago, only 4 out of 10 Canadian SMEs had an e-commerce website.

Whether you’re a leading Canadian brand or a local fitness studio, if you haven’t already, now is the time to rethink how people will discover your products online. Explore new channels, such as shopping directly from social media, click-and-collect, or subscription-based service models. Canadians are also looking for convenience in addition to health and safety protocols. For instance, Canadians are embracing the ease of ordering their goods and services online with curb-side pickup and home delivery options. And, if you can, be bold in reimagining people’s shopping experience. New technologies like augmented reality allow customers to virtually test products – like trying on a lipstick or a pair of shoes.

Adopting new ways of doing business can come at a cost, so if you are a small business, I encourage you to take advantage of the many free supports available. Digital Main St. offers a free digital transformation program, and initiatives like Canada United, raised $14 million for a relief fund that provides small business grants to help cover fixed costs and the shift to digital sales. We also know Black and Indigenous business owners are disproportionally impacted, which is why the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Businesses and the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce launched grant programs in support of these communities.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen that Canadians are more willing to support businesses that champion causes. Value-driven purchasing is particularly sticky among Generation Z. As of 2020, 41% of the world is under the age of 25, and this generation’s rising purchasing power will shape future patterns of consumption. By building brand reputation around a core purpose, businesses can attract customers with shared values. Delivering on this promise with aligned goods and services will build greater customer loyalty. And, when it comes time to reach people with those messages, we’ve seen that personalized advertising is the best and most cost-effective way for a business to communicate their brand’s story, especially when you can’t tell it in person and when budgets are tight.

While it is not clear how the pandemic will continue to affect consumer behaviour over the long-term, we do know that it has accelerated a number of trends. Canadians have quickly embraced and come to expect online shopping experiences that prioritize consumer convenience alongside health and safety, and they are drawn to brands that share their values. Canadian brands and businesses that adapt to these trends, with the needs and wants of their customers as their north star, will be best positioned to navigate the uncertainty that lies ahead of us.