Flowers, food and wine: How the push to sell online has permanently changed businesses
Small businesses embraced Shopify to stay alive, and some might never go back.
It's almost a cliché at this point to say that COVID has accelerated digital transformation. But it's certainly true when it comes to commerce, where not only have things accelerated in some cases, but they've fundamentally changed.
Between March 13, when much of the U.S. went into lockdown, and April 24, "new stores on the Shopify platform grew 62% … compared to the prior six weeks," the company told investors. As one of the best established and most comprehensive ecommerce platforms, Shopify allows retailers to quickly spin up online stores without any technical knowledge — along with providing a range of marketing and fulfilment services. That made it an obvious choice for retailers who saw their in-person income evaporate.
"When the lockdown started, I was a wedding florist," Rosemary Nyhoff told Protocol over email. Nyhoff owns Time 4 Flowers, a florist in London, Ontario. She tried selling online before the pandemic, but "didn't push it. It was a way to show myself: OK, I tried it, didn't work, I am meant to do weddings only." But when COVID started, weddings stopped. "There went 90% of my work out the door," Nyhoff said.
It ended up being a Canadian government scheme that encouraged Nyhoff to take the leap online. In a Facebook group, "someone mentioned a program where we could get an online shop for three months, paid by the government," Nyhoff said. She decided to give it a go, saying she realized "this was the moment to face my fears and change from a wedding florist to an all-around florist."
The upshot? "It has been a great move," Nyhoff said. Shopify provided support to help her build the website, and she relies on its marketing tools, too. There are struggles, for sure: Most orders are still from former clients and friends, Nyhoff said, adding that she's had to learn new floristry techniques ("I never had a flower cooler, now I do … I am hoping to learn how much [product] to have on hand."). But for the most part, Nyhoff sees it as a positive. "Shopify has lit a new fire, and I think that is what I needed during this time." She plans to continue the site even once the pandemic subsides.
The pandemic is also reshaping the way restaurants deliver their services, and Shopify is helping fill the void when patrons can't visit in person. A few days before restaurants were forced to close in the U.K., Top Cuvèe, a restaurant and wine bar in north London, launched "Shop Cuvèe," an online deli and meal kit store. While the restaurant started its shop with Squarespace, the team "quickly realized Shopify was better suited," co-founder Brodie Meah said, adding that Shopify "seems more purpose-built" for ecommerce. The company also decided to avoid traditional food delivery platforms. "I feel Deliveroo [is] trying to take over our industry, much in the same way Amazon has dominated," Meah said. "We really want to maintain our independence."
Providing its own delivery makes Shop Cuvèe's service "way better," Meah said he believes, because "our own couriers really care about the product." Those couriers include a mix of existing restaurant staff, new people and "bicycle couriers that normally would be working in the city, but work has dried up there," Meah said.
The response was so strong, Meah said, that it's led the business to rethink its future even after the pandemic subsides. "People were so happy to receive packages of joy during such a grim period," he said, noting that its natural wine subscription service also proved popular. In fact, Shop Cuvèe has been such a success that the company is actually launching an offline version. "We've just got the keys to our permanent shop location near the restaurant," Meah said. Pivots to ecommerce occasionally pivot back, it seems.
But for now ecommerce's importance isn't going away. COVID cases are back on the rise in the U.K., which recently implemented new restrictions on restaurants. A second lockdown could have devastating effects on in-person retail, too. Come winter, businesses that have already adapted to selling online could find themselves in a good position: As the pandemic draws on, Shopify may be their only window to the world.
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