Specialty retailers and artisans join LookLocal.ca – a new multi-vendor marketplace launched with support from Digital Main Street LAB
Father and son entrepreneurs Tim and Jonathon Root have been publishing LookLocal print and digital magazines since 2013 to help build awareness of local retailers, artisans and community organizations. Over the years, they developed loyal relationships with many of their advertisers and readers. When the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions shut down many businesses that were deemed ‘non-essential', there was a rapid and major shift in consumer behaviour to online shopping. Big box retailers and global websites saw a boom in activity while most main street retailers were scrambling to develop curbside pick-up procedures and to launch or improve their e-commerce sites and social media capabilities.
With COVID restrictions hurting their community, Tim and Jon started thinking about how they could actively help more local businesses and get the word out to their readers. Through their digital magazine they were already helping specialty retailers with marketing outreach. But now they saw the opportunity to design and build a multi-vendor marketplace where visitors to LookLocal.ca could browse and add items to their cart from multiple merchants with the convenience of one checkout.
While starting to build their prototype platform, LookLocal heard about the Digital Main Street (DMS) Lab program and submitted an application for support to help expedite their roll-out. In November 2020, Communitech, the regional innovation centre responsible for DMS Lab applications in Southwest Ontario, selected LookLocal's pilot project as one of four projects to receive support.
The first priority for the LookLocal DMS Lab project was to polish the functionality of the platform including the following key items:
- Synchronizing inventory between LookLocal.ca and vendors' Shopify and WooCommerce e-commerce platforms to reduce risk of out-of-stock orders needing to be cancelled or refunded
- Offering a variety of shipping options (curbside pick-up, flat-fee delivery model and free local delivery for orders over a certain amount)
- Enabling geo-location functionality and integration with the Lightspeed POS platform to prepare LookLocal.ca to easily scale to other regions and more vendors
In addition to helping offset a portion of the development cost, LookLocal.ca was able to hire a new full-time staff member who has been trained and now handles much of the social media marketing and customer service functions. They also engaged a part-time marketing expert to assist with outreach to new merchants, digital marketing and testing several ‘influencers' to accelerate their audience engagement.
According to Lisa Bogart, founder of Bogart Home & Decor in Bronte Village, Oakville “…It was impossible for my shop to start an e-commerce site, not only from an expense point of view – the manpower behind supporting it was daunting. LookLocal.ca provides an amazing opportunity for small businesses. Bogart’s has been a partner on the site since inception and it has been fantastic – an additional revenue stream as well as bringing in new customers that have discovered our shop through the site.”
“We learned so much during this pilot study and are so thankful to Communitech and Digital Main Street for their support,” stated Tim Root, LookLocal.ca co-founder. “We have built a good foundation from our base in Oakville and Burlington and look forward to expanding to nearby regions in the coming months.”
Click here to read the full case study.
About Haltech Regional Innovation Centre
Haltech is a not-for-profit Regional Innovation Centre funded by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. Haltech provides entrepreneurial education, advisory services and strategic connections to technology start up and scale up companies in Halton Region to help them accelerate growth and bring innovations to market. Haltech was selected by Communitech as their delivery partner for the Digital Main Street Future Proof Program in Halton Region.
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Microsoft, Facebook, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Yellow Pages and Lightspeed.
A $42.5-million investment from FedDev Ontario brought together the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech, Invest Ottawa and the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association to expand the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 in Southern Ontario.