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Shopping on the Virtual Streets of Toronto

May 29, 2020


As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption to the Canadian economy in the first half of 2020, the retail industry has found itself in a particularly precarious situation. Social distancing measures along with emergency orders restricting commerce have forced retail stores to shut down their brick and mortar operations or significantly alter operations for the foreseeable future. As a result, many small businesses found themselves struggling to stay afloat and maintain a viable business. In response to this crisis, local, provincial, and federal governments have announced a number of initiatives to assist businesses and ensure that they stay open through the disruptions.

In Toronto, one of the most notable initiatives has been the Digital Main Street – ShopHERE initiative. The initiative was initially announced in early May as a partnership between York University’s Schulich School of Business and the City of Toronto. Through ShopHERE, local small businesses will be partnered with key experts to help move their operations to an online format. Businesses will work with students at Schulich along with technology experts from corporate partners such as Shopify, Google, Microsoft, eBay and Ritual.

In addition to larger corporate partners, hundreds of vendors have also signed up to provide assistance to small businesses looking to build an online presence. Vendors are offering services in areas such as website design, digital marketing, data management, and logistics. With over a thousand businesses having already signed up for ShopHERE, collaboration with these vendors as well as larger corporate partners will be essential.

To be eligible for the ShopHERE program, a business must:

· be a registered business;

· have a commercial location or be home-based;

· have fewer than ten employees or fewer than 25 employees if a restaurant or bar; and

· not be a corporate chain or franchise.

In addition to helping businesses move their operations online through the ShopHERE intiative, Digital Main Street also offers participants free access to a number of academic resources and workshops on relevant topics. Furthermore, Digital Main Street members receive access to ongoing operational support even after they have launched their new e-commerce platform. To assist with the ambitious goals of the platform, Google Canada has recently announced an additional $1,000,000 in funding to help scale the program nationwide with a goal of getting 50,000 small businesses online by 2021. The move was praised by Toronto mayor John Tory as an essential step in ensuring that Canada’s small business eco-system continues to thrive in these difficult times.

Author: Aryan Pour-Bahreini


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