The Province of British Columbia is going to help small and medium-sized businesses launch online storefronts.
Eligible businesses will be able to apply for an up-to $7,500 grant to help build or improve their e-commerce operations, with the help of local service providers.
“Business practices that we thought were five to seven years away are here now,” said Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation.
“We want businesses in B.C. to be on the cutting edge of that shift.”
The Stronger BC Launch Online Grant Program is active as of Wednesday. It is backed by $12 million in provincial funding, which Kahlon says will allow the province to support 1,500 businesses.
A quarter of the funding will be reserved for regional and Indigenous businesses. The $12 million falls under B.C.'s $1.5 billion recovery plan.
According to Statistics Canada, retail e-commerce sales across the country reached a record $3.9 billion in May, a nearly 111% increase over May 2019.
From February to May 2020 – as the first wave of COVID-19 spread across Canada – total retail sales fell by around 18%, while total online retail sales nearly doubled.
Kahlon said the province's new grant program is intended to help businesses capitalize on this shift in consumer behaviour.
"We're seeing a major shift in our economy. We're seeing that now, what we thought was maybe five or seven years from now, that transition to going to more digital, more online, is happening in one year. And so we know we need to support our small businesses in that transition. It's critical. So that's why we've launched this new program and I think it's going to have big pick-up," he said.
The grant is in addition to a provincial recovery grant, which is available to small and medium-sized businesses that have experienced revenue declines during the pandemic. Grants are worth between $10,000 and $30,000 for eligible businesses, while tourism-related companies can qualify for an additional $5,000 to $15,000.
Kahlon said government saw a little over a thousand applications to the program in the first three months. After eligibility criteria was revised in December, government received well over 4,000 applications, he said.
He added that two-thirds of businesses in B.C. are currently relying on government programs.
The recovery grant and launch online programs are open until the end of March, or until funding is fully allocated. Kahlon noted there may be some flexibility for the newly launched e-commerce grant.