This years’ Independence Day celebrations have made it apparent that North Dakota is returning to pre-coronavirus activities, something we all thought about longingly last summer and during the cold winter months. However, not everything has returned to “normal” – some aspects of the world have changed for the better. Take the shift to online shopping and the state’s exciting new e-commerce platform, Shop North Dakota (ShopND), for example.
According to a February 2021 CNBC article, which used data taken from a U.S. Department of Commerce report, e-commerce sales in the United States were up by 32.4% in 2020 compared to 2019. E-commerce purchases totaled over $790 billion in 2020. Retail giants like Amazon, Walmart, and Target saw gains from the shift to e-commerce while small, local businesses struggled to stay afloat throughout the nation. Because of this quick shift in buying patterns, which isn’t likely to go away, small businesses need to be able to compete with retail giants for customers in digital and socially distant ways. But e-commerce platforms can be challenging, time-intensive, and expensive to develop, run, and maintain, especially for less technology-savvy individuals. For North Dakotans, competing digitally with tech giants no longer needs to be challenging thanks to the ND SBDC’s launch of the new ShopND e-commerce platform.
ShopND.com is a “Shop Where I Live” website that was developed by the website development company Member Marketplace. The company’s mission is “to help local small business owners sell together online, exposing their businesses to more potential customers in their community.” Member Marketplace partners with local Economic Development Organizations to create website marketplaces for local communities – much like an online farmer’s market. The ND SBDC has partnered with them to create our own North Dakota-wide website, where all North Dakotan small business owners can sell goods and services at virtually no-cost to the business!
Not only does this help business owners, but customers as well. Since the beginning of the pandemic there has been a growing call to shop local, but that can be difficult when customers aren’t aware of small shops, or that they may sell products that are equivalent or better than those sold by retail giants. With a website dedicated to selling local North Dakota goods, shopping local and supporting your neighbors has never been easier.
Furthermore, while customers can shop the entire state of North Dakota, they also have the option to filter searches to a specific zip code, city, business, or product. At checkout customers can choose between local pickup, shipping, or even local delivery when offered by the business.
ShopND.com went live on May 27th, 2021. Website analytics show that by the end of June, 35 businesses had joined the site, offering over 300 products in total. Additionally, the page had been visited over 17,000 times with over 4,000 unique visitors. Current products on the site range from hand-crafted Chinese Wooden Crossbows by WarFace Wood Crafts LLC to Apricot Almond Body Scrub from Billie’s Soap. As more businesses join and add products, and as more consumers visit and buy from ShopND, businesses will be able to reach new customers that would have been impossible to reach before while customers will be able to discover new favorite products and businesses.
The ND SBDC has taken additional steps in recent months to make it easy for small businesses to market and sell their products online, whether through ShopND or elsewhere, with our new Media Kits. These kits, which are free to rent, provide business owners with the technology needed to develop quality photo and video marketing materials. Kits include a 3x3x3 cubic light box for product photography, tripods, a stand, a professional microphone, lighting, and any additional necessary accessories. Cameras are not included as the kits are designed to pair with a smart phone. The kits will be available for check-out at all physical ND SBDC locations by the middle of July and training is available to clients for learning to use the kits.
For businesses that wish to utilize the ShopND website, the sign-up process is easy. Business owners visit www.shopnd.com/become-a-seller to go through a short approval process and confirm submitted details. The only requirements are that the business is registered with the State of North Dakota and that they be a registered client with the ND SBDC. Businesses can then list up to 50 products for free and will only pay standard credit card fees they would pay for any transaction.
The interest in this platform has already exceeded our expectations, and we are excited to watch it continue to grow. This is another way that the ND SBDC network is connecting small businesses to success! If you know of a business looking to expand their target market or get online, send them our way. Also, don’t forget to check out the site when you are looking to purchase a local ND product. Together, we are going to grow out of COVID.
Tiffany Ford, State Director
And all the Staff of the ND Small Business Development Network