In the world of online retailers, Aron Slipacoff seems like a throwback to the swashbuckling days of the Hudson's Bay Company. An avid canoeist and wilderness camper, he ran a history magazine for kids and a youth recreation program for the Inuit hamlet of Grise Fiord before deciding to get into online retail almost two years ago.
Given his background, there never was any question that the business was going to be focused on Canadian products, and it was going to be a .CA site. “The idea is to be the anti-Amazon, to offer uniquely Canadian products in their own setting,” says Slipacoff, founder of Ottawa-based Canadian Icons.
The business sells items of Canadiana with what Slipacoff calls “heritage value” — canoes, mukluks, parkas, snowshoes, toboggans — even an Emily Carr landscape priced at $380,000. Slipacoff's business demonstrates the advantage .CA sites offer businesses that are building a brand around a regional client base. The .CA suffix boosts its search engine optimization (SEO) ranking within Canada and fosters trust with domestic customers.
“Studies have been done suggesting that for Canadians with a preference, 81% prefer a .CA versus a .com for online shopping,” says Rob Williamson, marketing manager with the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). “They know they're not getting a lot of hassles with currency and shipping. “If doing business in Canada is important to you, then a .CA site is probably the way to go.”
It proved beneficial for The Modern Shop, a three-year-old Ottawa bricks-and-mortar operation which has been selling its products — elegant furnishings and lighting for the condo crowd — on a .CA site since opening day.
“When we started, online transactions made up about half of our sales,” says owner Michael Shaikin. “Now it's more like 60% or 70%.”
Both Canadian Icons and The Modern Shop offer the kind of high-end shipping service that appeals to online customers. Shaikin's operation provides free shipping anywhere in North America on sales over $99, usually within two or three days. Canadian Icons offers free overnight delivery; soon, Slipacoff plans to start offering 90-minute delivery to anywhere within 50 kilometres of Parliament Hill.
For Shaikin, choosing a .CA site over a generic top-level domain like .com meant avoiding the dilemma of a minnow in a shark tank. He sells furniture. So does Ikea.
“With a .com site I'd be lumped in with all the massive retail operations. I can't compete with them,” he says. “On .CA I'm among, maybe, two or three similar stores in all of Canada.” For Canadian Icons, the .CA website is part of the brand. The Canadian Icons website is set up like a museum store, divided into ‘exhibits' on ‘iconic' items that link to products for sale. It's a unique shopping experience that's as much about stories as it is about stuff.
“Look, we're Canadian — our products are very Canadian,” says Slipacoff. “If we were to present ourselves as a uniquely Canadian shopping experience and then do it through a .com website, we'd be chopping ourselves off at the knees.” A joint venture with Postmedia (Financial Post)