THUNDER BAY, ONT. — People are often urged to shop locally, yet small businesses are still missing out on online shoppers.
When Pam Tallon identified this problem, she did some research and made a plan to include local businesses in online product and service searches.
Tallon used her web experience and designed MyLocalism, an online hub for local business websites, for shoppers to browse and purchase items locally.
“I had some ideas,” she said. “About a year ago, I surveyed about 140 local consumers and 70 different vendors to figure out what is preventing people from shopping locally — aside from COVID, which was a factor at the time.”
Tallon says she was surprised by the results.
She found consumers “absolutely” wanted to shop local, but they couldn’t search for the products individually that they wanted.
“They would do a search online and all that would come up is Amazon results or big box stores,” she said. “Even if a local business had a website, the individual had to find that website first of all, then they had to be able to search the individual products on that website. And this was really the biggest barrier — either no website or if there was a website, (the shopper) couldn’t search for the product.”
Tallon says she “very clearly” asked the people if they wanted to search on individual websites and avoid the middleman or search on one marketplace where everything is there, where you can search for your products, you can add them all into one cart and check out.
The survey found 11 per cent of local shoppers chose the individual websites option while 89 per cent were skipping individual websites because they wanted one marketplace with one checkout.
“We said ‘OK, we know exactly what we need to build for Thunder Bay vendors so that they can reach the consumers the way that consumers want to be reached,’” Tallon said.
“That’s what we’ve done. We have built a marketplace and there are so many plans for future improvements on it. We’re going to add gift cards, wish lists and all those little notifications so if you favour a vendor, and they have something that comes back, it’ll send you a notification that the product is in stock.”
MyLocalism was started at the end of April and is still in its infancy. It is operated by Tallon and three full-time staff members.
To date, it has 30 vendors registered in its directory, and eight of them have listed and are selling things successfully.
Tallon says the vendors that have opted for the directory may increase their listings to actually list their products once they figure out what they want to do and how they want to use the website.
Linda Randle, co-founder of Randle’s Candles, is a regular vendor at the Thunder Bay Country Market and signed on to MyLocalism in hopes of receiving more exposure with online shoppers.
Randle says she hopes the website will catch on and people will choose to shop locally online and buy more local products instead of buying from Amazon.
“I think everybody needs to advertise more,” Randle said.
“I think (MyLocalism) will launch our local businesses onto the online platform where the big guys are, like the Amazons and the Walmarts and so on, and I’m sure it will happen. It doesn’t happen overnight. Amazon didn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take some time and we have to just sit back and be patient and just keep advertising.”
Any business can register to be included in MyLocalism even if they are a small crafter.
“You don’t need to necessarily have an HST number,” Tallon said.
“As long as we can verify that you’re real. That’s the thing. When you sign up as a vendor, we verify that you are real . . . because we are trying very hard to avoid the fraud that is rampant on marketplaces.
“We then welcome you to the platform with your free directory listing that you can go in and adjust how you actually show up.”
She said the vendor has the option to subscribe and actually start an account and begin listing their products immediately. It is the same process for registered businesses, shopkeepers and storefronts, and is intended for all of Thunder Bay.
Tallon says they have tried to make it as easy as possible for new vendors to register on the site.
User-friendly prompts direct new vendors through the registration process. Once the request is received, it will be approved if they are a valid vendor.
She says that they are different from the majority of marketplaces in that they have a “social mandate” built into the project.
“We’re in Thunder Bay, built by Thunder Bay people. We intend on giving back more than just the sales happening in the community. When sales happen for the vendors, the money stays here. It goes to their employees and it goes to employee families,” she said.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal