Ottawa businesses catering to e-commerce pick up steam during lockdown

Point3D

Spencer MacPherson’s burgeoning digital photography business was gaining momentum by the month when the COVID-19 crisis suddenly stopped one of its key service lines in its tracks.

MacPherson is the CEO of Ottawa’s Point3D Commercial Imaging, which specializes in using state-of-the-art digital cameras to create 3D virtual tours of local businesses such as hair salons, restaurants and car dealerships as well as residential and commercial properties.

Up until March, the three-year-old startup was generating about 40 per cent of its revenues from the retail sector. But government-imposed closures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus meant that virtually all clients in that space were suddenly off-limits for the three-person crew at Point3D.

Yet six weeks after the clampdown began, MacPherson says business has never been better.

While the company is no longer bringing in any revenues from its retail channels, it’s getting more inquiries from real estate firms and developers than it can handle. With public open houses on hold, realtors looking to give clients virtual walkthroughs of properties are turning to Point3D’s technology, as are developers who are using the firm’s services to showcase model homes to prospective buyers online.  

“The last couple of months have been incredibly busy for us,” MacPherson says. “We’ve been operating non-stop.”

Since mid-March, he says, Point3D has been seeing “a lot of interest from all sorts of people that I think were on the fence for this type of technology before.” 

Physical distancing measures to combat COVID-19 have prompted a “paradigm shift” in the front offices of many businesses that now see virtual tours of their operations as a valuable promotional tool, MacPherson says.

The Algonquin College graduate, who started Point3D with his brother Logan in 2017, says April revenues are on track to double from a year ago. Any lost income from the retail side of the business has been more than offset by the growth it’s seeing after bringing major homebuilders such as eQ Homes, Claridge and Richcraft on board as clients, he says.

“Every month seems to be better than the last,” MacPherson says, adding the company currently has openings for two new jobs. 

Fellow Ottawa tech startup Noibu has also been fielding more calls since the lockdown began. 

Also launched in 2017, the fledgling firm started out offering 3D virtual tours of high-end retailers’ brick-and-mortar outlets that allowed consumers to shop online while they were browsing a pseudo storefront. 

The company achieved some early success, including a $10,000 investment from the Capital Angel Network, but the venture never really made the kind of splash the founders were hoping for. 

A year ago, Noibu pivoted to become a bug detection service for e-commerce sites, alerting clients to problems such as software glitches or server issues that could interrupt the normal flow of business for consumers. Its clients include cosmetics giant Avon and clothing retailer Jack & Jones. 

Co-founder Robert Boukine says the spike in online shopping since the pandemic began has made retailers more aware than ever of the importance of having a website that runs smoothly.  

“They’re more willing to meet, they’re more open to new projects,” he explains, adding the nine-person startup has continued to sign new customers since the crisis began. “Especially with people being at home as well, their calendars have freed up a little bit. It’s been good for our business.”