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E-commerce is no longer a one-way street

In 2017 the internet is no longer a separate retail channel, it's an integrated component of the consumer sales cycle.
By Spencer Callaghan
Senior Manager, Brand & Communications

In 2017 the internet is no longer a separate retail channel, it’s an integrated component of the consumer sales cycle.

As the busiest shopping season of the year approaches, it’s a good time to assess just how dramatically Canada’s e-commerce environment has changed, and how the transformation is shifting.

CIRA recently released the Canada’s Internet Factbook 2017, and while it contains many valuable statistics and points to several growing trends, the most significant takeaway is this: the internet is no longer a separate retail channel, it’s an integrated component of the consumer sales cycle.

While the goal was once for every Canadian business to have an online presence, ideally with an e-commerce component, today the internet is a critical component in all aspects of selling to Canadians.

Indeed, while we find that 82 percent of Canadians have made an online purchase in the last 12 months, we also see that one in ten buy online and pick up in-store. The trends that may once have foretold the end of brick and mortar retail are now beginning to move the other way.

New technologies such as augmented reality may make trying on a new suit or testing a new chair in your living room more realistic, but there is still nothing quite like running your hand over the fabric or finding out what it’s like to sit in it.

The future is here, and it’s online, but Canadian consumers have indicated that they still find value in the ritual of retail shopping experiences, and the value of the internet is increasing in how it can help augment this reality.

Canadians have clearly demonstrated that while they value the convenience of shopping online, they want to support Canadian companies. We see this clearly in the fact that 81 percent of Canadians prefer to shop at a .CA website over a .com. While some of this preference is good ol’ fashioned national pride, there are clear benefits to shopping both online and in-store with Canadian brands including better shipping options, no customs or duty charges, and the ease of pricing in Canadian dollars.

What is clear in these preferences is that while Canadians enjoy the advantages of e-commerce, nothing can supplant the value of simplicity. This is why we now see Canadians leveraging the power of the internet in both directions. Whether it is the 79 percent of Canadians who practice “webrooming” – that is, they compare prices online before buying in-store; or the 17 percent who prefer “showrooming”, browsing in-store before purchasing online; the internet is no longer exclusively shifting commerce online; it is powering it wherever it takes place.

Of course, the most significant factor that is powering this shift is the ubiquity of mobile. When e-commerce was exclusively the domain of the desktop browser, the value was predominantly one-way. The benefit of shopping from your couch is clear. However, the dominance of mobile makes it easier to combine the best qualities of having a retail presence with the virtues of the internet.

We see this in Canadian companies such as Frank & Oak, which have transformed an e-commerce experience into a physical retail presence in several cities. Alternatively, Loblaws now offers the ability to shop for groceries online and pick them up at your local store. While it once looked like e-commerce might decimate the retail landscape, what we see now is something more nuanced.

The only constant in the debate is that Canadians prefer to do business with each other, and they want the internet to play a key role in making the experience better. That is the value of .CA in a nutshell, and as Canadians prepare for the holiday shopping season, we look forward to helping more great Canadian businesses get online.

About the author
Spencer Callaghan

Spencer Callaghan is the senior manager, brand & communications at CIRA. He is a writer, former journalist, and has experience in technology, non-profit, and agency environments throughout his career. His areas of expertise include content marketing, social media, branding, and public relations.