Big X-Mas test for Quebec E-tailers
Canadian shopping portal doubles listings

Richard Meltzer wants you to do your Christmas shopping on the Internet. And he thinks RetailCanada.com, a portal he designed to connect shoppers to Canadian E-tailers, is a great place to start.

"Canadians want to buy from Canadian companies," said Meltzer. "But one of the big reasons they give (for not doing so) is the lack of choices available. Our portal is the perfect way to find E-tailers that service your community."

According to an Ipsos-Reid survey, 83 per cent of Canadians look for a Canadian site when making an online purchase, most, because they want to keep the money in Canada. But those aren't the only reasons. Currency exchange rates, shipping costs as well as duty and tariffs also factor in.

Because there were so few local companies selling online last Christmas season, many Canadians were forced to buy from American firms, and were disappointed by the experience. But things are changing. RetailCanada.com now lists 3,600 online businesses, almost double last year's total. Of those more than 1,000 are transactional E-tailers. The rest while not being fully e-commerce enabled have some e-business features such as an online catalogue.

It's been tough slogging for Meltzer. The company Web-site has been overhauled four times in its 2 1/2-year life, to incorporate new features and design changes. "When I started, there were so few Canadian companies selling online, that I literally had to phone retailers one at a time to find out if they were e-commerce enabled," Meltzer said. "It was the only way to build up the database quickly."

But things are picking up, and now companies are knocking on his door asking to be listed. Michael Szego, a consultant with J.C. Williams Group whose E-tail clients include HBC.com and HVM.com, expects Canadian online sales to rise from $450 million last year to between $600 to $700 million this year.

Quebec companies, which form less than 10 per cent of RetailCanada.com's database have been among the slowest to jump on the E-tail bandwagon. According to Gaston Lafleur of the Retail Council of Quebec, the 2000-2001 Christmas season is going to be their first real test.

Retailers often generate between 1/3 to half of their annual sales in the months of November and December. "Last year companies like Archambault.ca and RONA.ca were just getting started, so they did not fully benefit from the Christmas period," Lafleur said. "We expect Quebec retail sales to rise about four per cent this year and online sales much more than that."

Indeed Quebec companies are so new to online selling that no hard statistics are available for how much Quebecers spent last year as a whole, nor for the Christmas period.

Meltzer believes his site is a big piece of the Christmas online shopping puzzle. Unlike other portals, his lists only e-businesses. In addition to classifying them by the type of products they sell, RetailCanada.com also breaks them down by city.

"One of the biggest problems that people had during last year's Christmas season, was getting delivery of their online orders," Meltzer said. "By ordering from local merchants, shoppers are dealing with retailers that they know and can rely on." Dealing locally also helps if products need to be serviced or returned since there are no shipping costs. "If there is a problem you just go down to the store and work it out in person."

On RetailCanada.com, visitors click on their city and they know that all the businesses listed operate in that city. A quick search yielded generated a half dozen businesses under "Dorval" in the shopping section at Yahoo!, with no indication of whether they were e-commerce enabled. A RetailCanada.com search yielded about 200 listings for online businesses servicing Dorval.

So how is RetailCanada.com going to make money with its new service? "We are looking at a variety of revenue streams," Meltzer said. "Although a basic listing on our portal is free to E-tailers, we charge for enhanced options. We are also looking at referral and other arrangements."

A good rule of thumb when analyzing the potential of a Canadian Internet business is to find out if there is a similar one operating successfully in the U.S.

So is there a www.RetailAmerica.com? "We own that domain as well," Meltzer said. "We are thinking ahead and have even registered www.RetailEurope.com. If we can make this model work here in Canada, then we'll try an export it."

 

Photo caption: Montreal-based portal www.RetailCanada.com provides shoppers with a directory of online retailers operating in their area.

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