Quebec wants its own Amazon and has a portal allowing Quebecers to discover and even buy Quebec products online starting in the fall, without discriminating against products from elsewhere.
Funded by the Desjardins Group, the National Bank and in part by Quebec taxpayers, this initiative aims to actively promote local products that will benefit from favorable algorithms on our favorite internet search engines.
Le Panier Bleu, this noble concept, will have an arduous task to stand out among the big names on the Web, especially in the agri-food sector. Amazon owns 12% of North American e-commerce. Office Depot, Staples, Apple, Dell and Walmart together have 10% of the market, the same size as Amazon.
That leaves over 2,000 retailers to fight for the remaining 80%. Le Panier Bleu and other similar initiatives that have emerged since the start of the pandemic are added to this list. The competition promises to be very fierce.
Too little investment
To maintain the cybernetic performance of the Blue Basket at a very high level in order to allow Quebecers to find it in the virtual jungle of the Internet, we must constantly invest in the platform. Times have changed a lot since the famous “Toile du Québec”.
In addition, the very existence of the Blue Basket seems to imply that products from outside bring little income to the Quebec economy. However, the retailers, the people who work in branches, the agents and distributors are all from Quebec. Our economy is open and many businesses depend on imports, whether we like it or not.
In the agri-food industry, competition means that the Quebec industry constantly aspires to do better.
One of the inconvenient truths about buying local is that local produce is not always the best or the cheapest.
Sometimes the prices will be lower, but not always. Playing with international trade is to compromise the affordability of food for Quebecers.
The Blue Basket is a really bad idea, that’s all. The idea charmed in April with the portal, the logos and the artifices, but, with the transactional platform that is added to it, the partners will not have finished making payments. To change the game and face the competition, it would probably have required an investment three times the size of the $ 900,000 offered. The big food retailers plan to invest more than $ 12 billion in Canada within five years.
Quebeckers, not so connected
Quebec consumers know very well how to navigate the Internet. Providing a special platform for Quebec products cannot hurt.
However, one should not expect miracles, because Quebecers are among the least connected for online purchases, especially for food. According to a survey conducted by Dalhousie University last December, almost 55% of Quebecers have not ordered a single product online since the start of the pandemic, the highest rate in the country.
Beyond the principle of promoting local products lies the discomfort of plausible protectionism.
The executive order that President Biden signed this week, which puts forward the “Buy American” law, does not make people happy, both in the United States and elsewhere. But the Americans have the means to stand up to the rest of the world, not Quebec.