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Online retailer's chief marketing officer, Paige Malling, explains what makes her company tick and why e-commerce is set to grow

E-commerce isn’t that old in Canada, but Paige Malling is already an experienced veteran. She started as Home Depot’s interactive marketing manager, before leading online marketing at Sears. Today, Malling is chief marketing officer for, the Guelph, Ont.-based online retailer of consumable goods. was founded in 2008 by Ali Asaria, a former BlackBerry staffer, who started selling personal- and health-care items out of his father’s pharmacy.

Since then, the company has opened its own distribution centre, in Guelph, and last year started selling food as well. The company delivers nationwide using companies like Canada Post. There is no delivery charge for orders above $25.

READ: The man from Grocery Gateway’s business model is simple: “We’re about replenishable product,” says Malling. “What are the things you need in your cupboard day to day; we try to ensure that we’re your easiest way to replenish your home. We sell huge numbers of diapers online. But on food we only sell products that are shelf stable. So no ice cream.”

Canadian Grocer editor Rob Gerlsbeck recently sat down with Malling for an interview.

Who shops at

Our typical customer is the mom who seeks convenience. She is absolutely time-starved. She shops at 10 o’clock at night once her kids are asleep; she shops when she is commuting. We like to say that we give our customers back a half-hour of their lives. We’ll take away one trip to the store every month.

One of our advantages is we offer shoppers tens of thousands of products, some of which are mass market and some of which are niche. You can buy organic sunscreen for your kids, but you can also buy Kraft Dinner.

Do your customers tell you why they shop online from your site?

People like to shop from a Canadian company. We see that time and time again. We also see that our customers love the convenience. They love having diapers delivered to their door and not having to carry that case of diapers home.

If you think about the urban commuter who needs to buy toilet paper and diapers, it’s actually quite annoying to carry all that product home. The fact it gets delivered to the customer’s door is a huge factor.

Hard-to-find product is another reason people shop us. They tell us, “This hair-dye colour that I’ve been using for years has been discontinued at my local store. But you still have it.”

Have you noticed an increase in the number of people shopping on smartphones?

Yes. About 30% of our traffic comes through mobile devices, including tablets, and that number is growing. It’s why we focused a lot on developing our mobile app last year, and why we will continue to expand upon it. We worked very hard to make fun and enjoyable yet also to make it a useful experience, rather than it just being a down-graded version of the website.

We see mobile shopping apps becoming a tool you can use to manage part of your life. If you think about it today, you use your phone to manage your e-mails, but you can use it to manage lots of different things. We see it as being used to manage your shopping as well.

The app you launched last November has a mobile replenishment feature. How does it work?

It’s designed to keep the inventory of your home up to date. So you can create a kitchen cupboard on the app and scan all the products that you have in your kitchen. When you do your grocery shopping it’s a matter of looking in your online cupboards and deciding which products you need to order at that time.

You can also set products to “subscribe.” So if you know you need a case of diapers once every four weeks, you can set it so that diapers are auto-replenished. It’s a feature that has taken off in other parts of the world and we were one of the first to do it in Canada.

It’s very interesting to see what products people subscribe to. It’s things that are logical, like feminine hygiene products and vitamins. But we also see people subscribe to food; things like their granola bars that they know they need to buy for the kids’ lunches. It’s not just about e-commerce anymore; it’s about making people’s lives easier through technology.

What’s the role of social media in your business?

We see social media as a new way of word-of-mouth advertising. We have a socially based referral program, and with our replenishment app, you can highlight products that you like and share them with your friends.

We also strive to take the corporate nature out of e-commerce and help customers realize that it’s people that pack your boxes. On every single package leaving our warehouse, we write a thank-you on it by hand. And instead of always showing a product montage when we send an e-mail to a customer, sometimes we show pictures of our own staff holding the product.

A lot of people first learned about when you and Procter & Gamble set up a virtual shopping wall near a subway in Toronto that people could scan products from to order. What was the reason for that test?

We did it because we really wanted to inspire Canadians about what the future of shopping could be. It’s often said that Canadians are lagging behind in e-commerce, and we wanted them to experience what shopping could be like in the future.

VIEW: Subway supermarkets around the world

We’ve had tons of interest, thousands of downloads for our app and lots of interaction with the wall. The brands that participated saw exponential growth during that period of time.

How do you decide which products to add to your assortment?

A lot is through people sending us e-mails of things they would like to see on our site. Last year we added food, as well as pet and baby products. We’ve also added everything from party to gardening supplies.

Our focus is really about complementary products, things that are closely related to what we already sell. For example, we sell diapers and now we sell toys, too. Our customers are very vocal about things they would like us to add, whether it’s brands or categories.

And online, it’s easier to launch a new category and test it because you don’t have to go through the whole process of redesigning planograms and needing shelf space. You can easily test a category.

That’s one of the advantages we have being an online business; we can try things out, see how they work and expand as necessary relatively quickly as compared to bricks-and-mortar .

We don’t see a lot of retailers in Canada selling food and consumables online. Why is that?

One of the reasons it was slow to take off is the geography of Canada. We’re not a country where things are close together, like in the U.K. Based on that fact, it’s harder for e-commerce companies to get moving.

You also see a lack of venture capital funding in Canada so you don’t see as many startups as you see in the U.S. So that’s another factor of why pure-plays were slower to build in Canada. But I absolutely think that e-commerce will grow.

What about the future of online sales? Do you see a tipping point happening?

Canada is growing much faster than the U.S. in terms of e-commerce now. So that gap is closing. Canadians are going to pick up on the convenience that online shopping offers.

Canadians were the first in the world to adopt online banking; so we’re not afraid to put our credit card into an online system. We were just slow to get started and now the steamroller is going to come and start to really shift some of those sales. The e-commerce space is going to explode.

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