With everything you're juggling as a small business owner, keeping up with an increasingly digital world can feel overwhelming -- and making changes to embrace new technology can sometimes be last on your list. If you're in retail, however, this shift is simply no longer optional.
Even mom-and-pop businesses can't get away with having zero web presence (or having a weak one). Offering online shopping is quickly becoming table stakes and contactless payment options are expected in-store.
This is especially true if you're looking to attract millennials. And you should be, since this demographic is only growing their spending power. There's a lot of talk about the elusive millennial. We read that they value experiences more than things. They're entitled, yet into giving back. They live online, yet crave unique, local-made goods.
There's no time like the present to give yourself a digital edge.
So, are they really that different from the rest of us? Well, yes and no. Based on research we recently fielded at Mastercard, millennials have at least one thing in common with their older counterparts -- they believe in supporting their local businesses. Consistent across generations, nine out of 10 Canadians said supporting small merchants in their community is close to their hearts.
Canadians of all ages love to shop local, but how and why millennials do it is a little different. They are less likely to shop frequently at local brick and mortar stores but more likely to order online from independent merchants. They're less likely than Canadians over 35 to shop local because of emotional ties to the community and more likely to do it because of the unique products on offer.
That all means there's no time like the present to give yourself a digital edge. I spend a lot of time with small business owners and I know that change can be scary. I know how easy it is to put it off until next year. I also know how vital your success is to fueling the economy. Here are some important steps you can take.
Go online to grow
Offer eCommerce as soon as you can. Availability of online shopping from independent merchants is relatively new, but so far Canadians are embracing it. While it hasn't caught up to the popularity of in-store shopping, there's an important generational trend. Half of all millennials are shopping online from local merchants. You need to capture this market for future success. And you can bet this trend won't be reversing with Generation Z.
Recognize that your website is part of curb appeal
A third of retailers in Canada still don't have a website. Even if you can't offer eCommerce right now, make sure you have a website and that it looks sharp. Your online presence has a direct impact on your in-store sales as 85 per cent of buyers want to do research online before buying.
Make big data small
Since you can't rely on loyalty alone from younger shoppers, you need to sell what they want. Going with your gut on decisions has got you this far, but there are more tools available now. Using big data at the local level can tell you more about who lives in your neighbourhood and how your competitors are doing.
Don't go it alone
There are resources to help and you should seek these out in your local market. For example, in Toronto, Mastercard is partnering with the City on Digital Main Street, a first-of-its kind initiative, giving local businesses access to digital tools and education including access to an easy website builder and big data resources.
Jennifer M. Sloan is the Vice President of Public Policy for Mastercard in Canada, responsible for working with all levels of government and stakeholder groups to ensure enduring viability of Canada's payment ecosystem.
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You may feel like saving is impossible with that huge pile of debt sitting on your back, but unless you take care of it first, you won't be able to plan out a clear financial future. "High debt levels will slow down your saving and investing abilities when you start working, so do everything you can do to stay out of debt," says author and financial coach David Campbell Lester. Obviously, this situation isn't ideal for everyone — especially students who take loans during the school year and don't find full-time work right away. Once you graduate, talk to a financial planner to figure out how much you should save each month, and if you're a student, talk to your school's career centre for part-time work or look for grants or scholarships.
This can either be someone who works at your bank or someone you know who is really good with their money. Meet with your mentor once a month and discuss your challenges and successes thus far in terms of your career and finances, Lester says. And although it may be a little embarrassing to share your savings and debt numbers with someone you know, remember, we've all been there at one point.
"When in school, get a part-time job that will complement your career when you graduate, and give you cash to keep out of debt," Lester says. Although getting part-time work can be tough during the school year, try looking at jobs on campus that can work around your schedule, and give you more skills in your preferred field.
If you love your credit card and treat it like a best friend, make sure you're using it for the right things."Build credit by paying your mobile, cable, internet, and other fixed costs on your credit card and then pre-authorize a full payment at the end of the month," he says. Don't make of habit of paying for everything on credit — especially if you can't pay it off. Also, when you are looking for a credit card, choose one (or two) that will benefit you with either points or a cash back feature. Credit can be your friend, as long as you don't create a hole of debt.
If you know you have $100 a week to spend on food, coffee, entertainment, etc. then leave that amount in a "spending account," or take it out in cash every Sunday, Lester says. If you are the type of person who is more likely to spend cash if they see it in their wallet, start with a small amount, like $20 to $40 per week.
Make your own coffee that day, pack your lunch, stay in and watch Netflix, and make your own dinner. Start this challenge by bringing your lunch every day, for example. Turn it up a notch by implementing financial-free weekdays at least three times a week. "Going out only once a week will save you a ton of money," Lester says.
Have your bank transfer 10 to 20 per cent of your paycheque into a savings account every time it goes in. Over time, it will grow and you won't even miss the amount. If you're worried about spending it, try opening up a separate bank account without any fees or invest in a TSFA. Remember, once you get comfortable, you can move up the percentage.
Looking into the future, start thinking about investing in property. "Real estate has gone up in the long run and there isn't a single better investment for retirement than a home that is paid for," Lester says. Although this may seem out of reach for most millennials, start saving early by putting away a certain amount of money each month for a condo or house, live with roommates to decrease your own rent costs, and keep an eye out for new buildings or units in your area.
"I know it seems boring, but once you have a portfolio of investments pumping money into your account, you'll see it as fun too," Lester says. Join an investing group, watch the news for the latest numbers or pick up some investing books from the library.
Take a minute to actually figure out where your money is, including how much money you have in each account, money you owe and money you have invested, if any. "You don't have to cut out expensive coffees, shop with coupons, and live like a hermit to be a money champ. Spend less than you make and save 10 to 20 per cent for your future," Lester says. If your net worth is increasing year after year, you're on the right track.
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