Just five percent of all commerce is based online currently and the fact remains that the giant brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart are massively popular as ever with Canadians. And even with Walmart’s presence north of the border, Canadians are still spending a ton of money in Walmarts and other big stores in the US.
Actually, an infographic said one million Canadians would cross the border on boxing day and spend an average of $468 dollars.
Waterloo-based startup The Display Rack, which resides at the University of Waterloo’s VeloCity Garage, is a tool that can act as a shopper’s best friend. Launched a month ago, it’s a comprehensive platform that currently lists full inventories of over 250 big-box US-based stores, like Walmart, Target, BestBuy, Sears, Walgreen’s, Staples, Costco and more.
Currently the site is experimenting with three markets in New York, Buffalo and Niagara Falls (NY), and for a Canadian population that likes hopping the border to take advantage of good deals, it could be a useful tool.
“It’s a local shopper’s companion basically, a search engine when you want find things around you,” said cofounder Fahad Siddiqui, a former investment banker at BMO Capital Markets who left Bay street for a passion for startups. “Chances are you need a store around you and it’s almost too difficult to go into each and every store and search for a product or call them up and explain it all on the phone.”
So instead of ignorantly wandering into a store not knowing if they have the product, shoppers can check The Display Rack before they leave home and get the inventory information. Or they can check the site on their mobile device while at stores (the whole idea reflects a growing trend of shoppers perusing the aisle armed with a tablet or smartphone).
Right now users can’t purchase anything, but next month the site will be linking to stores for in-store pickups.
Siddiqui explained that the idea for the startup came about mainly to scratch his own itch. Two years ago his wife was searching for a unique blender that went out of production. Siddiqui tried searching for it online and in various stores but no one had it. “One day a month later I walked into this random store and they had boxes of it just sitting there and the store was a 10 minute drive from where I was. For me it was one of those moments where I said if only I had this information I wouldn’t have to go through the frustration and its something that happens to me quite a bit.”
Thus, The Display Rack targets shoppers just like himself- those people who are searching for a non-normal products, or products that aren’t sold in many places. The cofounder gave the example of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, which seem to have a unique following based on a lack of availability. The other targeted user is the aforementioned on-the-go shoppers who use their mobile device to aid their shopping, like Ontarions heading to Buffalo to find great deals.
“A large part of our traffic is coming from Canada, I’d say 30 percent, even though this is a product that is in the States,” he said. “Part of the reason is there’s a lot of people travelling right now and they’re doing their planning now.”
Ideally as the testing phase with the three New York cities goes well, Siddiqui and cofounder Saif Saab will expand to every other city. After all, they have the inventory data for these stores in over 24,000 US cities.
Despite ecommerce’s well-documented lag in Canada and its optimistic growth, the fact remains that people love going to a store to shop. And for these Waterloo guys, this is good news.