In the community of Belleville, Ontario, the Downtown Belleville BIA has launched an ecommerce market place to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic store shutdowns. The aim of the initiative is to boost sales for the many struggling businesses that have lost substantial sales since the March shutdown this year.
In an attempt to assist the most vulnerable businesses in their community, Belleville’s Downtown District Business Improvement Area (BIA) has launched a local ecommerce marketplace. The platform — which launched April 17 — allows retailers, restaurants, and service-based businesses in Belleville to create their own virtual shop on the site and sell their products and services online.
In the four weeks since the Downtown District Marketplace went live, the site has generated more than $22,000 in revenue for downtown Belleville businesses, meaning many can continue to pay rent, utilities, and other bills that retailers are still required to pay during the shutdown.
In response to the pandemic and resulting mass-closures of non-essential business in March, the BIA quickly began working on a digital solution for its members. The Downtown District Marketplace was born of this initiative and currently has 30 businesses up and running and over 1000 products available for purchase.
“This online marketplace not only offers our businesses a means for business continuity during this extraordinary time, but also positions us for growth in the future,” advises Kathryn Brown, Downtown District BIA Board Chair and Owner of Kate’s Kitchen.
Due to the various digital literacy levels among the downtown businesses, the marketplace solution needed to be easy to navigate while still providing a seamless and professional, user-friendly shopping experience. The Downtown District Marketplace was created by utilizing the Shopify platform and a combination of various other apps.
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The number of local businesses involved in the marketplace is growing steadily as its success becomes increasingly prevalent. The website features curated categories, making for a coherent shopping experience. You can shop by store, by product, or you can browse the many unique businesses Belleville has to offer. Each business has its own profile page on the marketplace that showcases their available product. Customers have the ability to buy online and pick up curbside or even have the order delivered to their doorstep.
Each participating retailer has been trained in social distancing protocol and is fully-aware of the safety measures required in carrying out business transactions during this unprecedented time.
“This local e-marketplace will be a game changer for main street businesses who don’t have the capabilities or experience to sell online,” explains Cuerrier. “In this time of crisis, our goal is to enable our businesses to create revenue in a safe and reliable way.”
The success so far has led to Moniz and Cuerrier demonstrating the solution at the request of other BIAs in Ontario who wish to follow suit. The marketplace model is easily replicated in any main street business area.
The marketplace provides businesses with a broader scope and huge potential for growth. This exposure would not be possible for many otherwise. It also relieves local businesses of the burden of establishing an online ecommerce presence, which for many can feel like an unobtainable task. The marketplace is set up and ready to go, all the business has to do is get involved.
“The project has helped to streamline the ecommerce method of selling for businesses who didn't have the mechanisms before. The marketplace was something we had been planning for a while but COVID-19 accelerated our plans. So far it has been very well received and it will definitely continue into the future and far beyond COVID-19,” said Moniz.
Other BIAs across the country are following suit —Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan being one that is seeing huge success — all in an attempt to cushion the blow of COVID-19 on their neighbourhood retail.