Small businesses need to expand web presence
MONTREAL - Small business owner Pascal Proulx counts on his website to give his Montreal roofing company credibility and bring in customers.
But Proulx is among a minority — 41 per cent — of Canadian small business owners who have a website, according to a study by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority.
As a result, small businesses may be losing out on sales opportunities as three-quarters of Canadians research their purchases online, the study said.
Proulx said all of his clients have visited his website for information and to look at photos of the company's work.
"It's a window to present who we are," said Proulx, president and head of projects at Toiture Vision. "The first impression means everything."
Overall, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority said its survey, conducted in March 2013 and released on Tuesday, found that just 45.5 per cent of Canadian businesses were online.
"I think that's a huge missed opportunity given the way shopping habits have changed amongst all of us, arguably, really quickly over the last five years," said David Fowler, director of marketing and communications at the non-profit Internet organization.
Business owners simply may be intimidated about going through the effort of putting up a website, Fowler said from Ottawa.
"I think a lot of businesses, like a lot of people, are scared of technology."
The study also found that two out of every three dollars Canadians spend online go south of the border.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has created an online directory called Shop Small Biz that targets just Canadian companies, including online businesses.
"It's a way to try to encourage Canadians to shop at Canadian small businesses," said Corinne Pohlmann, the federation's senior vice-president of national affairs.
The business federation noted that a website helps put small businesses on an equal footing with larger ones.
"It's a bit of an equalizer," Pohlmann said from Toronto. "It has allowed, I think, a lot of small businesses . . . to really promote their products more broadly and more widely."
Websites also help businesses, such as roofing companies, that don't necessarily have a storefront that's easy to find, she said.
In addition, the registration authority found that half of Canadians surveyed said they prefer .ca domain on a website over .com for business use and for online activities that require the disclosure of personal information such as shopping or banking.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority manages the .ca domain, which tells Canadians they are dealing with a Canadian website.
The survey online was conducted on its behalf by The Strategic Counsel and involved 1,000 Internet users and 425 Canadian business decision makers. The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.