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Traditional store finds young market online

After pandemic, landmark business navigates e-commerce realm
Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery owner Inna Vasilyev says the store’s online expansion helped it survive the pandemic | Submitted

Over its 65 years in Vancouver’s historic Kerrisdale neighbourhood, Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery has experienced a lot – and no global pandemic was going to shut it down, says owner Inna Vasilyev.

The fine stationery retailer was the only business in the neighbourhood not to temporarily close its doors, according to Vasilyev. At the outset of the pandemic, though, she laid off her staff, but quickly brought back her store manager and marketing manager and ran the store with a skeleton crew.

As the store managed with reduced staff, it also suffered a reduction in its clientele. It sold cards and gifts often purchased by older people living in the neighbourhood – those most vulnerable to the virus.

With fewer shoppers walking through the doors, Vasilyev had to develop a new strategy. She decided to search for a new customer base, pivoting from a focus on older walk-in customers to a younger online customer base.

As COVID-19 concerns begin to fade, Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery is starting to see a revival of sales from its traditional walk-in customers, but remains focused on its online business. Vasilyev‘s business, however, is no longer just competing with its neighbouring stores or other stationery shops in the region; it now faces global competition including retail giants like Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN). So how is a little shop on West 41st Avenue keeping up?

Vasilyev said it takes a lot of strategy and research to find unique products to sell and to determine the best price to sell them at. She researches which brands do not want their products to be sold on Amazon, stocks those products at her store shelves and makes them available online.

In conjunction with this strategy, Vasilyev has to sell these products more competitively than in the past due to the store’s expansion to online operations. To help differentiate its online offerings, Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery is also providing a more personal retail experience than what is being offered by e-commerce giants like Amazon. The online platform helps customers choose which products will best suit their needs rather than leaving them to do their own research.

Migrating to online has involved more than just listing unique items, she said. The store is working on ways to create a unique presence by fostering an online community for its customers. Pandemic restrictions encouraged people, particularly young people, to pick up hobbies like calligraphy and journalling. This helped drive young Vancouverites to the stationery store for the first time. Now Vasilyev and her marketing manager are working to develop that online community with content that not only enhances the store’s brand but also draws new customers to hobbies served by the business.

Vasilyev had considered making some of these changes before the global pandemic, but it took the economic shock of COVID-19 to spur quick adoption of a less traditional sales process. As a result, Buchan’s Kerrisdale Stationery is no longer struggling to survive through unprecedented times, and instead is taking on new challenges and opportunities that come with its digital expansion.