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Small business owners need e-commerce more than ever to open up new opportunities and markets.Supplied

Almost overnight, COVID-19 took shoppers out of stores and pushed them online, in record numbers. After erecting virtual storefronts, and learning the basics of fulfilment and shipping, small businesses are in a different mode. They’re grappling with what to do next.

“It’s easy to get set up online,” says Luke Miszczyk, director of parcels and e-commerce solutions integration at Canada Post. “Now we need to help them grow and prepare for the road ahead.”

How can small business owners continue to leverage e-commerce? Mr. Miszczyk says to start by deciding where to build an online presence going forward.

One option is to invest in a dedicated website. That gives businesses control over their brand, but they will need to operate their site in-house, which takes resources.

Another route is focus on a marketplace such Amazon or Etsy. Mr. Miszczyk says this option provides access to a ready-made audience, though businesses lose some control over branding and must keep up with a list of requirements, including costs.

Which option is best? “I compare it to renting an apartment versus buying a house,” Mr. Miszczyk says. “I’ve heard from merchants who’ve had success in both areas. There’s no one answer, as there are many different variables. Some try both markets to maximize reach and see which one generates the most success for their business.”

A willingness to experiment is valuable. So is crafting a unique story. With so many more businesses online, the ability to differentiate yourself is more critical than ever.

Shoppers want to know who you are and why they should buy from you. This means spending time creating your “about us” page, prominently displaying your popular and signature items, and writing meaningful product descriptions that reinforce your brand.

Even before the pandemic, Canada Post’s research showed that consumers are increasingly interested in buying from Canadian companies. Mr. Miszczyk says it’s important to ensure visitors know you’re Canadian.

Trust is also crucial, as fraud has increased over this period. Trust is built online by detailing a returns policy, providing a clear contact page, creating professional visuals and copy, and offering transaction options that include secure digital payments such as PayPal.

Businesses need to extend that trust into shipping. After COVID-19 hit, delivery times for many online purchases lengthened due to Christmas-level volumes. Still, consumers want their packages relatively quickly. Mr. Miszczyk encourages small businesses to learn how to streamline the fulfillment and shipping process, and to use tools that can help them compete.

For instance, Canada Post’s free Solutions for Small Business program enables businesses to print shipping labels online, drop off packages at any of the 6,200-plus post offices across Canada, or request parcel pick-up at their places of business. The program also provides members with automatic shipping and direct mail discounts, which go straight to their bottom line. Businesses ready to expand across borders can also fill out customs forms online in seconds.

As COVID-19 remains with us, Mr. Miszczyk reminds businesses to stay flexible and be prepared for whatever the future holds. Reading the Canada Post Business Matters blog, for instance, helps businesses learn how to test the possibilities of e-commerce.

He likens managing your e-commerce business to a sound engineer at the helm of a giant soundboard, “pushing and sliding buttons to calibrate the perfect track.”

“It’s not about choosing one tactic over another, especially in this environment,” he says. “It’s about having options – and Canada Post is about providing those options for its small business customers.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.