Emilie Benoit-Vernay: "The small businessperson is exactly who Shopify was designed to help"

Shopify's manager of France explains how the largest publicly traded Canadian company has supported small business owners during pandemic.

Posté le Wednesday, June 30th 2021
Emilie Benoit-Vernay: "The small businessperson is exactly who Shopify was designed to help"


Leaders League: How has Shopify helped small business owners navigate the coronacrisis?

Emilie Benoit-Vernay: The pandemic has had a major impact on small businesses, and the small businessperson is exactly who Shopify was designed to help. Over this past year, we have gone the extra mile
to assist them so they can continue to sell and distribute their products.
The pandemic was a litmus test for this purpose, to see whether our service was going to be able to provide clients with what they needed. In 2020 we were catapulted into the world of 2030, and businesses
that did not have an avenue to sell their goods and services online – artisans and small store owners, mainly – learned that e-commerce was no longer an optional extra, it was essential. For those whose products were not ideally suited to online sales, we put in place a gift-card system which made it possible for them generate revenue while their physical stores were shuttered. For example, in France the website soutien-commercants-artisans.fr (Support Your Local Store) uses Shopify technology and has sold more than €2 million worth of gift cards and benefitted four million French businesses. We have helped facilitate such initiatives elsewhere too.

There are three types of businesses from an e-commerce point of view:
those that can sell their products online, those that can’t, and those that use gift cards to supplement their activity. In the latter category you find things like plant nurseries, which can benefit from Shopify to launch a drive-through click-and-collect service, for example. This sort of service was vital for many companies who, even if the authorities allowed them to remain open, found themselves unable to welcome clients in-store in the usual way. By using Shopify, they were able to continue to sell, and discovered a whole new way of doing business. The click-and-collect
model was a big hit during the first lockdown. In fact, click-and-collect
sales going through Shopify jumped by 443% between February and March of 2020.

"For the small business owner, there is a psychological barrier to overcome when developing an e-commerce site."

Last spring, companies needed to be extremely fleet-footed and inventive if they wanted to continue to sell their products at anything like pre-pandemic levels. How did Shopify help them in this regard?

For the small business owner, there is a real psychological barrier to be overcome when it comes to developing an e-commerce site. They tend to think it’s too complex and not worth the hassle. We show them that this needn’t be the case. If the entrepreneur already has a rough
idea of what they want to put on their site, and photos and mini-descriptions to hand, then the whole thing takes less than half a day. We also offer strategic and educational support. The advantage with Shopify is that we provide a hub for all your e-commerce needs. Shopify allows you to create your own online store, complete with a catalogue of products, in addition to providing back-office services, with a range of strategic marketing and business development advice tailored to
different marketplaces. On top of this, our partnership with Facebook Shop provides an additional avenue for companies to grow sales.


Which sales channels have proven the most robust during the pandemic?

Given the nature of this crisis and the natural goodwill and solidarity of the general public, small business owners wanting to open an online store using Shopify or develop new services have turned to their
existing customer base, reaching out to them mainly via social media.
Then, in order to attract new clients, they typically carry out online marketing and make their products available on various e-commerce marketplaces.

‘‘We provide a simple, ready-to-use e-commerce solution that requires
no prior training or IT skills to set up’’

Give us some figures that illustrate Shopify’s success during the pandemic.

In April 2020, in France alone, we saw an uptick in the creation of new online stores using Shopify technology, up 82% from March. In addition, the number of consumers making their first purchase on an online store using Shopify was up 97% during the same period.


Shopify has been available in France for three years now. What are the peculiarities of the local market?

The Shopify app has been available in France since May 2018, and our French team was put together over the course of that year. We studied the needs and expectations of the French e-commerce sector and began by bringing in leading payment and distribution solutions so they became part of the Shopify ecosystem. We have been in partnership with the top French e-commerce site, CDiscount, since 2019, working with it to enhance access to products sold by Shopify e-entrepreneurs.


Are you looking to attract a different type of clientele going forward?

What sets Shopify apart is that it does not limit itself to one particular type of product or size of business. The base technology used is the same for all companies irrespective of their size, although there are, admittedly, various subscription tariffs. Shopify is there for those taking their first steps in e-commerce, those already online but who want a more efficient multi-channel strategy, and bigger businesses looking
to streamline their own costly IT and e-commerce infrastructure.
Concerning this last group, we have a dedicated service called Shopify Plus, based in London, that can help them develop agile, high performance solutions. Volcom, Palladium and So Shape are
just some of the big names using Shopify. I want to stress that this is not a premium service, but rather a large-account service, and it is powered by exactly the same technology as the others. The only change is in the scope of the platform.

‘‘We do not limit ourselves to one particular product type
or business size’’

What’s next for Shopify in France?

First off, we want to continue to be the partner of choice for helping brick and mortar businesses go digital. Thanks to our partnership with PayPlug, we can offer them an e-commerce activity in conjunction with the Paris Chamber of Commerce or with Afnic, which handles the registration of .fr [and .re, .pm, .yt, .wf, and .tf] domain names. From a sectoral point of view, we have struck a partnership with the French
high-street fashion federation, whose members include FrenchTrotters and Maison Kitsuné, to help boost the online sales of its members’ brands. Another major ambition is to expand the role of Shopify Campus, which provides e-learning solutions to business people looking to become better at online commerce. The service offers courses that cover the different steps involved in creating a boutique, optimizing
your SEO and developing a more advanced marketing strategy.