In case you haven’t heard, there is a new player transforming the Canadian online shopping scene with a user experience that is as friendly as Canadians themselves. Toronto-based start-up SHOP.CA offers an authoritative selection of products, unmatched service and an engaging social loyalty program that rewards members on every purchase. Launched in June 2012, the ecommerce site is the first multi-merchant marketplace built for Canadians and managed by Canadians, unlike anything that currently exists on the market. We sat down with SHOP.CA President and Co-founder Trevor Newell, who started the company with childhood friend and current SHOP.CA CEO Drew Green. Here’s why you should check out SHOP.CA.
You Have Options:
A true online shopping mall, the site features one-stop access to millions of products across 26 categories and includes over 2000 national and international brands. This makes it the largest ecommerce site in Canada, a goal both founders set for the company from the get-go.
A recent survey conducted by Vision Critical and SHOP.CA found that 67 per cent of Canadians say that cross-border shipping duties is the number one factor in discouraging them from online shopping. Created specifically for Canadians, there is not only no cross-border shipping, but also free shipping in general with SHOP.CA. An added bonus: the company offers free returns as well, and you have a full 365 days to make up your mind. The entire user experience is simple too, with the site easy to navigate and neatly divided into categories and price points. The core IBM operating system is what Newell calls the “Ferrari of core platforms,” and allows users to effortlessly fill their cart, search for their products and check out. For Holiday 2012, gifts are sorted by the type of recipient, from “son-in-law” to “gadget geeks.”
It’s Social and Rewarding:
The SHOP.CA Social Loyalty Network makes online shopping as social as a trip to the mall with friends. By integrating social elements into the ecommerce platform and user experience, the site engages and rewards Canadians for every purchase and for social activities that lead to the purchase by offering new ways to earn up to 2.5 per cent SHOP.CA rewards. This includes sharing via social media and referring friends and family. “Shopping has always been a social activity and we really wanted to take the typically offline conversations had regarding purchases to the online world of social media, ” says Newell. Thus, the site entices users with badges and gamification, with badges earned by products reviewed or shared. He stresses the importance of the loyalty program, telling us, “Canadians have almost 10 loyalty cards per household,” which we are told is actually the highest in the world.
Big Player Partnerships:
If you have a Scotiabank debit or credit card you may enjoy exclusive rewards, like right now where you get four free movie tickets when you buy a Canada Goose jacket at SHOP.CA. You can also earn 2.5% of your total purchase in SHOP.CA Cash Rewards in addition to the rewards you already earn, or $20 a month in additional SHOP.CA Cash Rewards when you make a purchase over $200. Newell tells us “it is all about people and partnerships” and points to some of the company’s key partnerships with IBM, Bell and Diamond Media – and a strong network of thousands. “It is about leveraging partners and getting creative.”
Customer Service is Pleasant, Not Painful:
Another SHOP.CA perk is the unmatched customer loyalty team of brand ambassadors, who are much more than your typical call centre. The team interacts with customers via social media channels and can even hand deliver product in some cases. The excellent customer service may be a by-product to the fresh and forward corporate culture. The company has 34 partners (not to be called employees), all of whom have a stake in the company (Newell tells us there is no hierarchy at SHOP.CA). In fact, the first 24 people had all worked together before.
Of course, these great things didn’t come without a carefully thought out business plan and the early stages of the company’s existence were characterized by sleepless nights and weekends as the pair worked away at this while still working day jobs. A powerful team from the start, Newell offers his business and tech expertise and Green his experience in the digital world and ecommerce. Even so, Newell tells us “a big challenge starting out was in revenue and how to value a company without revenue and only a business model, domain and team in place.” The size of the idea and the immediate unwavering mission to be the #1 shopping destination in Canada meant the immediate need for a fundamentally strong investment strategy. “We didn’t set out to make a store and slowly grow and wanted to align our investment strategy with the distinct brand from the start,” says Newell. The pair managed to attract a group of investors who believed in the product, along with the support of seasoned business figures, like Don Tapscott, who is Chairman of the Advisory Board.
Another initial challenge was devising a way to break into the Canadian market and educate different parts of this market, including top brand retailers, manufacturers and distributors, on the new service. The pair purchased the domain four years ago but “didn’t think Canada was ready for it” at the time. Now, Newell tells us “suppliers, retailers and consumers are finally starting to understand and embrace ecommerce.” These days, business seems to be running smoothly as the site continues to engage a growing number of Canadians. The goal is to grow “bigger and better” and the focus is on “rapidly loading the product.” The brand has plans to expand its offerings to include travel and to increase its global presence into the US, South America and Europe in the near future.