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June 8 , 2010

Our country's unique online shopping quirks

Canadians more demanding than ever

We revel in what distinguishes us from the cultural, political and economic behemoth below the 49 th parallel. When it comes to sports, cuisine, and healthcare, we point to hockey, poutine and our public health system to demonstrate our Canadian-ness. While healthcare stateside may soon mirror our public model, we can still differentiate ourselves by a sector transforming marketing, retail and information analysis – online shopping.

Don’t scoff the importance of understanding our ‘distinct society’ of online shoppers. Canadians are quickly becoming more familiar, savvy, and demanding of web-based portals, from mobile platforms to social media and more. While there are great opportunities for retailers online, according to our research and experience tailoring sites to Canadian shoppers, significant differences exist in expectations, service and products that are worth noting.


Canadians love the internet: Over 80% of Canadians access it at home and our page views, social network and search engine use is practically unsurpassed. However, we are increasingly leery about internet security, with an average ‘concerned’ rate for online credit card use of 47%. According to Ipsos Reid, 45% of Canadians always or sometimes read reviews before purchasing, but when it comes to hitting ‘check out,’ we hover and hesitate. With all this time researching, why is online shopping still only 2% of the retail marketplace compared to America’s 6%? This is likely due to the slow uptake of mainstream retailers and the delayed expansion of international online vendors into Canada (Ex. Amazon). Canadians have very different expectations about what online storefronts do – more research resources than purchase portals – and until we change these perceptions, credit cards will remain firmly out of sight.


Despite the opportunity to watch best practices stateside, on average, Canadian retailers tend to be more risk-averse in mounting online portals and are often slower to increase selection, integrate responsiveness and innovate in user-experience. While we don’t have the critical mass to support our own Zappos, Canadian retailers are starting to recognize that keeping an eye on comment threads, twitter streams, social networks and blogs allows them to quickly tackle any customer complaints and address issues. The web-savvy fashion-forward blogger behind a top Canadian fashion site ‘I Want I Got’, Anita Clarke explained her retailers’ mistakes: “It’s disappointing that Canadian sites are still missing key services and features. I will often give up if there’s no address and phone number anywhere on the site, an ambiguous terms of service, server errors in the browsing and checkout process or no SSL lock symbol in my browser. “


It’s not all doom and gloom getting Canadians on board for online shopping. 50% of Canadians online order goods or services, and 67% use the internet for banking or bills. This indicates an increasing acceptance of credit card transactions online and larger membership in alternative payment systems like PayPal. Looking at growth over time in online purchases is encouraging: In 2001, 2.2 million homes placed 13 million orders and in 2007, 8.4 million individuals placed 70 million orders, worth $12.8 billion.

When Canadians surf, click and buy online, they use the discerning eye of a seasoned art appraiser. When I asked Anita about browsing for products, she mused: “ Availability and cost are big factors.  Canada has a much smaller number of online retailers compared to the States.  I’d rather not buy from American sites and get burned by shipping, brokerage, taxes and custom fees.  “

Her views are reflected in the shopping statistics: one-size-fits-all travel bookings, books, event tickets and jewellery maintain top ranking in sales. When it comes to clothes and health and beauty products, we still hesitate to click ‘check out.’ Considering these differences in expectations, service and products, what can you do to increase or create an online shopping destination that is destined to succeed? Exceed expectations.

When building your online inventory, be thorough in your product images and descriptions to minimize questions and users’ doubt. When establishing a monitoring system, be quick to respond to any online grumblings about product quality, shipping or site usage. Finally, when it comes to products, invest in offering choice.

Unless otherwise noted, all Statistics from December 2009 and May 2010 Statistics Canada Reports http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100510/dq100510a-eng.htm

Mark Baldwin is President of Conversys Inc., a Transcontinental Company, (www.conversysinc.com) which is a North American leader in helping companies of all sizes optimize their digital promotions, increase their revenues and create a valuable, loyal, ‘sticky’ audience. Transcontinental Marketing Communications Sector’s comprehensive marketing services, combined with Conversys’ industry-leading Digital Promotions Management (DPM) expertise result in robust solutions that help retailers, CPGs and publishers optimize their marketing, refine their spend, and increase traffic and sales.  

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