University of Alberta program provides Edmonton businesses online support amid COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video: 'U of A program providing hundreds of Edmonton businesses with online support amid COVID-19 pandemic' U of A program providing hundreds of Edmonton businesses with online support amid COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH ABOVE: It's a pattern that started to emerge before the pandemic: more people shopping online. It's shifted even more now, forcing businesses to adapt. A free program launched last year has been helping hundreds of businesses in Edmonton with their digital presence. Nicole Stillger explains – Apr 17, 2021

A program that started last year in Edmonton has helped hundreds of businesses build their online presence.

The Making Edmonton Digital program was initiated by the University of Alberta and the City of Edmonton as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Students in the School of Retailing program consult with businesses that need digital support.

“They’ve been able to provide the support and help build them a platform so they can reach more customers and more clients to ultimately help make more money, Heather Thomson, executive director at the Alberta School of Business School of Retailing, said.

“The option of having a digital platform isn’t really an option anymore.”

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Click to play video: 'Making Edmonton Digital aims to help businesses adapt to pandemic' Making Edmonton Digital aims to help businesses adapt to pandemic
Making Edmonton Digital aims to help businesses adapt to pandemic – Apr 9, 2021

The program is free and, according to Thompson, it has helped 290 businesses so far.

“The need to be digital isn’t going anywhere,” she explained.

“Consumer behaviors and patterns have shifted so much during the pandemic people are more comfortable shopping online, and that’s why it’s such a necessity now.”

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An Edmonton business owner who has been working with a student consultant for about a month said she’s using the opportunity to get help with her marketing strategy.

“In the past, we were just social media. We were a storefront based business — we didn’t have an online store,” The Makers Keep owner Katrina Petryshyn said.

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“With the pandemic we went online and we shifted completely. We still offer our in-store shopping, but we found that a lot of people were more comfortable shopping online.”

Petryshyn said she values the education.

“I’m learning so many things about how to operate my website better, how to use subscription lists better, how to just reach your customers in a different way,” she said.

There are still 260 spots left in the program which wraps up at the end of August.

“To be able to help in any certain way — even if it’s super small — just getting them that digital presence, feels amazing,” digital consultant student Tanya Paramapathy.

“If they need (search engine optimization) help, if they need website design, if they want graphic design help — we’re really accommodating in that sense.”

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Paramapathy has been part of the program for four months and has helped 25 businesses.

“I think the biggest need is getting on social media, and setting themselves apart on social media,” she explained.

“A big trend right now is being able to have that aesthetic appeal on Instagram and incorporating more videos and dialogue, making sure that you’re interacting with your customers and clients throughout. That’s what we’ve really tried to implement.”

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With many businesses struggling because of the pandemic, the fact that it is free is huge.

“Businesses can keep the cash flow in their business and not have to worry about any sort of cost to make this shift,” Thomson said.

Businesses can signup for the the program online.

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