Businesses pitch 'shop Edmonton' online portal to sway shoppers to buy local

Business associations in Edmonton want the city to help create a new e-commerce portal where customers can buy from local businesses online. 

'We need Edmontonians to shop local like never before,' Mayor Don Iveson says

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, businesses have used various ways to let customers know they are still operating. (Natasha Riebe/CBC)

Business associations in Edmonton want the city to help create a new e-commerce portal where customers can buy from local businesses online.

Representatives from the city's 13 business improvement areas joined council's executive committee meeting Monday to share how they're making out and measures that would help during COVID-19. 

Cherie Klassen, council chair for the BIAs, said many businesses are operating on deficits and they're looking for the city's support ahead of the Christmas shopping season.

"One of them is to create some sort of Edmonton Amazon," Klassen told the committee. "We would love it if we had a City of Edmonton e-commerce site for all of our local businesses." 

Two websites currently list local businesses or artisans: Edmonton Made and Things That Are Open, which was created in response to COVID-19 pandemic. 

The "Edmonton Amazon" idea may be too ambitious to be ready in time for the Christmas shopping season, Klassen acknowledged, but the online portal could be a tweaked version of a directory, with listings that link to companies' online shopping tools. 

"There could be a campaign around 'Shop Edmonton and support Edmonton businesses' — that's what we're looking for," Klassen said. 

Mayor Don Iveson welcomed the BIAs' collaboration. 

"You have my commitment too, to work with you to find the right channels to give that message — that we need Edmontonians to shop local like never before," he said. 

Jeff Chase, the city's acting branch manager of economic and environmental sustainability, said the city is working with the BIAs and Explore Edmonton to come up with a strategy. 

"We're actively working on how best to move that forward," Chase told the committee.

Coun. Scott McKeen said he is eager to see an online portal and strategy soon.

"I think we need to all jump on this bandwagon and jump on it hard," McKeen said. 

The city recently contributed $75,000 to the University of Alberta's Digital Main Street being run through the School of Retailing, Chase noted.

Klassen, who is also executive director of the Old Strathcona Business Association, said several members have signed up for the Digital Main Street program to improve their online presence. 

At Monday's meeting, Klassen also presented three other key priorities for businesses in 2021, including a call to upgrade infrastructure, more friendly policies and regulations, such as the successful patio expansion and good neighbour agreements with local shelter providers to minimize social disorder. 

New holiday approach

Each BIA is organizing its own campaigns.

Eleanor Sasseville, executive director of the Kingsway District Association, said it is planning a couple of events. 

"We're pivoting right now and reinventing ourselves for the holiday season," Sasseville told the committee. 

She said the BIA is going to run a "shop and stay Kingsway" program to encourage people coming from out of town, such as Barrhead or Westlock, to stay overnight at a hotel. 

"Some of our hotels weren't even open from March until July — so a very long time," Sasseville said. 

Kingway is also hosting a drive-thru holiday parade with goodie bags and coupons to encourage local shopping.