Is there an online store in your future?

When beekeeper Richard Ozero opened Good Morning Honey in 2010 near Stony Plain, Alta., he believed e-commerce needed to be part of the business from the start.

“We noticed many of our friends and customers turning to online consumerism,” Ozero explains. “A business today has to be where people are spending their money. For some, that’s in the grocery store. For others, that’s sitting at their laptop.”

While some farm products are perishable and may be difficult to ship, the long shelf life of Ozero’s honey, beeswax and pollen meant his products fit online selling perfectly. Although the online store has broadened their reach to the U.S., Asia and Europe, they continue to sell their products at farmers’ markets, local grocery stores and through the Beemaid co-operative brand.

Ozero hired an Edmonton digital developer to create their e-commerce website to ensure an easy-to-navigate and reliable platform for shoppers. He cautions that in his experience, setting up online infrastructure may not be cheap. Ongoing costs for marketing and keeping up with technology mean that selling online without a middle-man doesn’t necessarily save money. All the same, he’s in it for the long haul.

“This is the new reality,” Ozero says. “If you want to be part of this new agricultural commerce, you have to have an online presence that allows people to buy products from you.”

One-stop shopping for farm products

While some Canadian farmers choose to set up a website with an e-commerce component, others opt to sell online through a farm-focused grocery hub.

In 2013, Nathan Steele opened My Farmers’ Market in Winnipeg, Man., offering fresh food sourced from over 70 local producers and same-day delivery. His business differs from other farm-share companies in that Steele’s customers can tailor their online order to suit their needs, rather than receiving a mystery basket.

“My customers are the younger crowd who want to know the farmer or know where their food is coming from,” Steele explains. “It’s a win-win because we also offer our farm producers a logistically convenient model.”

Steele is proud of the journey his business has taken and how well he represents the farmers under his umbrella. All the same, he notes that the streets of online food marketing are not exactly paved with gold.

During five years in business, Steele has seen other grocery hubs enter the market, offering larger brands at lower prices. It’s a competitive market that demands a lot of work and rarely allows a day off.

“I would say our progress has been slow and steady,” Steele says. “It’s not a switch you can just turn on. It does take time to develop.”

While Richard Ozero at Good Morning Honey sees his online market as an important component of his distribution, interestingly, online food pioneer Steele has just opened a brick-and-mortar grocery store to take advantage of the busy street outside his warehouse.

“Winnipeg has warmly received this idea,” he explains. “It’s not an easy walk in the park. But we’re very happy with what we’ve created.”

5 tips for online readiness

Are you ready to be an online seller? These tips could help.

Be e-commerce ready. Find an e-commerce website template online, hire a company that specializes in custom website stores, or team up with someone who already has a strong website.

Find your payment method. Canadian banks offer different online payment options, or you can use services like Square, Stripe, PayPal or Shopify. Be prepared to pay a fee monthly, per-transaction or both.

Consider your shipping options. Most customers expect to pay for shipping. Depending on your business model, you can deliver product yourself or through a commercial courier or carrier. Shipping outside Canada could make you subject to restrictions or regulations. Sort these out in advance.

Create your policies. Sometimes damage occurs in shipping, or the product is not what the customer expected. Clearly communicate your return or refund policy on your online store. If you don’t offer returns, share that information, but remember that customer service is very important.

Get the word out. Much like a traditional business, you’ll need to entice traffic to your store. Add your web address to all your marketing including business cards, brochures, recipe cards, signage and social media. 

From an AgriSuccess article (June 2018) by Kieran Brett.