Make e‑commerce your export advantage
In a rapidly changing international business landscape, staying ahead of the game is crucial for companies looking to thrive. With the ever‑growing influence of the Internet, many Canadian small and medium‑sized enterprises (SMEs) are turning to selling and promoting their products and services online to boost their sales and expand their global reach.
The e‑commerce opportunity for export‑ready businesses is enormous and growing. The pandemic has only accelerated its adoption, making it an even more indispensable tool. According to Global Affairs Canada’s State of Trade 2023 report, 33% of Canadian companies sold products or services online in 2021, three times more than the 11% that did so in 2012. As a result, many Trade Commissioner Service clients now consider having an online sales channel presence mandatory for international success.
Seizing e‑commerce opportunities
What benefits can export‑ready companies gain from using e‑commerce? Let’s explore the advantages of taking your business to the web:
- Website customization — One of the primary advantages of having an online presence is the ability to change it to suit specific audiences and markets. Different countries might speak different languages, offering language options can help you connect with customers who prefer a particular language.
- Product/service promotion — Your website provides an ideal platform to explain your product or service in detail, make the content fit distinct cultures and segment preferences, and provide additional information and resources for your international customers.
- Customer support — Building a robust and trustworthy relationship with customers is crucial for your company's success online. A web presence allows you to do this through various communication methods like customer support services, Q&As, and other tools.
- Attracting new customers — For companies only doing business in Canada or select markets, taking your business online can extend your reach and help you quickly develop a global network. Keeping an eye on online activity and customer interest can also help you determine which markets are worth moving into as your company expands.
Promoting your brand
Over the years, the landscape of e‑commerce has seen significant changes. In 2012, larger firms dominated online sales, but by 2021, smaller businesses had embraced e‑commerce, closing the gap with their larger counterparts. Canadian e‑commerce service providers, including content creators, online sales platforms, and web designers, have proven to have an extensive ecosystem capable of sustaining and supporting the deployment of e‑commerce for businesses. As a result, big and small Canadian companies now have a range of online tools to promote their products and services, including e‑commerce marketplaces and company websites.
- E‑commerce marketplaces — Online marketplaces are digital shopping malls where consumers can buy from various merchants on one site. Amazon, Alibaba Group, and eBay are among the most popular. They give Canadian companies the chance to be part of well‑known platforms. There are many platforms that exist to help retailers by offering services like payments, marketing, shipping, and tools for engaging with customers. This makes it easier for small businesses to run an online store.
- Sector‑specific marketplaces — You can find marketplaces focusing on specific types of products, making it easier to reach the customers you want. For example, Newegg is for computer parts, and Etsy is for handmade and vintage items.
- Omni‑channel marketing — Companies use many different platforms to sell and promote their products today. It’s essential to be consistent in all these places and embrace current trends and technologies, like mobile‑friendly websites.
- Company website search engine optimization — When it comes to your company’s website, carefully selecting keywords will increase its online visibility. However, picking too many keywords can reduce your overall standing on search engines. Take time to consider which descriptive elements of your company's products or services are essential and unique before selecting keywords.
- In addition, networking by adding links to other relevant businesses can increase your website's legitimacy and help you develop a support network. Linking to reliable sources will also rank your web pages higher in search engine results.
Mitigate common e‑commerce challenges
As with any new venture abroad, some challenges may arise when doing business in e‑commerce. Here are some of the most common e‑commerce challenges that businesses face and how to mitigate them:
- Return policies — Clearly establish the return policies for your product before selling online to consumers abroad to ensure customer expectations are met, secure their post-purchase satisfaction, and avoid costly returns.
- Online transactions — Ensure that you know which online payment systems you will use. If your target market and payment system are incompatible, you must rethink your approach to processing transactions.
- Language barriers — Make sure you have a way of communicating in your target market's language to fully understand the legal and security requirements of doing business abroad. Developing partnerships with other businesses in your target market can help you overcome language barriers and provide you with insider information and tips.
- Customs issues — Know the rules, regulations, and permits required for your goods in your target market before exporting. For more information, refer to the list of general export permits and export controls for specific destinations that may pertain to the market(s) you are interested in.
E‑commerce requirements and regulations
While exporting online is a profitable business opportunity that has grown exponentially in recent years, it’s critical to be informed about online requirements and laws. E‑commerce complexity intensifies with different currencies, varied hosting options, and offshore manufacturing and warehousing. Meeting the following requirements can help you increase your legitimacy and develop a trusting relationship between your business and its customers:
- Website requirements — When selecting your target market, make sure that you tailor your website, accordingly, including language and currency options, and appealing to target market preferences.
- Security requirements — Ensure that your website is safe, particularly if you choose to do online transactions involving debit or credit cards. You can follow the guidelines provided in the Get Cyber Safe Guide for Small and Medium Businesses.
- Privacy requirements — Online transactions often involve the sharing of personal information. Therefore, knowing how to adequately protect and retain confidential information, and when you should destroy it, is crucial. Refer to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada for more information concerning electronic and digital payments and privacy and Canada’s anti‑spam legislation compliance.
- Currency fluctuations — The Canadian dollar fluctuates, so it’s essential to understand exchange rates between Canada and your target market. Check the Business Development Bank of Canada’s (BDC) guide on dealing with a fluctuating Canadian dollar
- Legal requirements — Make sure you are aware of e‑commerce tax laws for federal, provincial, or territory‑specific rules. You can start by checking the Canada Revenue Agency website's topic page on reporting rules for conducting online business.
Act today to stay ahead of the game
Our network of Trade Commissioners in more than 160 cities worldwide can help your export‑ready company navigate the local business environment in a particular market, discover opportunities, and succeed on the world stage.
Want to know if you’re ready to expand your business abroad? Take our export readiness quiz, check your score and be sure you are ready. When the time is right for you, contact us to get started on your e‑commerce export journey.
And be sure to connect with us to stay in the know about our services, funding and support programs, trade news and events, and business opportunities around the world. Follow us on LinkedIn, X (Twitter) and Facebook for the latest information and updates, and watch our videos on YouTube.
- Step‑by‑Step Guide to Exporting — Step 10 — Selling online: e‑commerce for exporters
- E‑commerce — Grow your business presence
- E‑commerce and Digital Business: A guide for Canadian food and beverage companies
- E‑commerce for business: A platform primer (from Export Development Canada)
- Succeed with e‑commerce (from BDC)
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