A few months ago e-Marketer published a report about the state of e-Commerce in Canada. Being the biggest fan and best customer of Canadian e-commerce, I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that it’s is finally starting to take off. But kids, we still have a ways to go before we can truly call ourselves a “leading” e-commerce nation.
Our Dependence on American-based e-tailers
Our love of everything American creates a demand to shop on American-owned-and-managed sites. But many American-based e-tailers simply refuse to accommodate Canadian customers because they don’t wanting to deal with duty, shipping and other nasty fulfillment issues. The result is unfortunate: Canadians are being put off of e-commerce because of negative reinforcement and limitations by U.S. sites.
Case in Point: www.gap.com and www.oldnavy.com sites simply refuse to ship to Canada. A friend of mine who works at the Canadian Gap office told me that Gap Canada’s management has been trying to get their California-based Head Office to consider a “dot ca” or just let Canadians buy off the main site. After much deliberation, the U.S. management decided against selling to Canadians over the internet, because we are not a lucrative e-commerce market. They’re kind of right – but their attitude is also leading to a vicious circle. You can’t create a lucrative e-commerce market by consistently pissing off Canadian e-consumers.
I encountered a similar situation when I tried to buy a special “toddler floaty” swimsuit for my son off the Speedo website. I landed on the Speedo splash page (pardon the pun) and chose Canada. I was impressed to see a fully functional shopping cart in the Canadian site. But, on checkout, the Speedo site refused to take my order and I was left feeling like a second-class citizen (and I was choked I could not get this specialty-suit for my kid). Speedo faked me out and I am now checking out other brands – I even (gasp) had to go to the mall!
Few and Far-Between
In addition to providing positive shopping experiences to customers, we need to ensure that our e-industry continues to inject scads of money into the Canadian economy – and then some. Kudos to Canadian-owned e-commerce retailers operating in Canada (Indigo, Zip.ca, ShoeWarehouse.com) and the “dot CA’s” of American-based sites for doing their part (sears.ca, toysrus.ca, ebay.ca). These efforts all contribute to building our young industry into a stable and healthy one. However, there are only a handful of Canadian-owned start-ups that have grown into successful multi-national e-tailers (Simply AudioBooks, M.A.C. Cosmetics, MegaDox and WestJet are the only ones I can think of). And that concerns me for our future.
What are the barriers to Canadian e-tailers going international? American and U.K. sites do it. Why haven’t we jumped on that bandwagon?
Changing Customer Behaviour
The media certainly isn’t helping when they broadcast news stories about internet fraud and identity theft. Sure, we need to stay one step ahead of the cyber-criminals but the media has the Canadian public absolutely terrified to use their credit cards on a website (when in reality, dumpster-diving is the main cause of identity theft).
In addition to fear of identity theft, over 40% of the Canadian public is of the Baby Boomer generation. This group has begun to embrace e-commerce, but they’re coming into their retirement with a “living on a strict budget in case I live to 100” mindset. In light of this, what group should a new e-tailer target to get good sales?
I think I am one of those rare people who use e-commerce in my daily life – I wouldn’t survive without it. A few of you probably use it a lot too. But the average Canadian does not – they prefer to do it “old school”. Yet, Americans and Brits have no trouble using online shopping. So what is our general hang-up? We need to head-off consumer fears and fix broken consumer perceptions if we’re going to be an e-commerce nation. So how do we go about doing that?
Where Do We Go From Here?
Remember when the media has us convinced that e-commerce was going to cause shopping malls to be ghost-towns? We would do all of our shopping online! Our commute to the office would be the 10 paces to our home computer! All of our shopping would be done in our PJ’s! All from the comfort of our homes! That was ten years ago – and we’re nowhere near that yet. Will we ever be?
So, I guess I’m ending this post with more questions than closure. Is there something we, as the industry experts, can do to “push” the industry? Can we lobby the government to make e-commerce easier for consumers? Do we campaign to U.S.-based sites to include Canadians into their trading area? Should we have a meeting or conference on this?
The good news is that mainstream ecommerce solutions are spreading worldwide, making it easier to build online retailing sites.
What do you think?