Pleins feux sur le commerce électronique

Guide: Spotlight on E-commerce

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E-commerce is helping companies export to global markets in a variety of ways.

The following Spotlight can help your company stay informed with the right resources to effectively sell to consumers around the world through digital platforms. From e-marketplaces to virtual storefronts and search engine optimization, this short guide can assist your business in taking the important first step to market your products and services online to a much wider audience.

“It is very exciting to arrive at the office in the morning to realize you have been selling all night, while you’ve been sleeping.”

– E-commerce exporter

The lucrative business of E-commerce

The realm of business is constantly changing – which can be difficult for companies looking to stay ahead of the game. That’s why many Canadian businesses are turning to the internet to boost their sales through E-exporting.

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) is pleased to present the following Spotlight on E-commerce, which compiles essential information for companies looking to either start doing business online with consumers in markets abroad, or for those who already have an online presence to explore best practices to diversify their sales to target consumers in some of the world’s largest markets.

Since the rise of the internet, online marketing and sales have become increasingly popular. In fact, some customers consider an online presence a necessity for companies in today’s global marketplace.

For more information on E-commerce, consult the TCS Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting which contains a special section dedicated to ‘Selling online: E-commerce for exporters’ as well as covers other important steps involved in the exporting process.

What is E-commerce?

  • E-exporting is the practice of receiving and processing orders online from customers located in foreign countries.
  • E-commerce (also known as digital commerce) refers to the act of selling and buying via the internet.

Benefits of an online presence

Taking business to the Web has advantages for most companies:

  • Website customization – allows your company to tailor content to specific audiences and/or markets. Some markets may value different aspects of your product or service than other ones. With different language options, you can also develop a relationship with customers in their preferred language.
  • Product/service advertisement – your website provides an ideal platform to explain your product or service in detail, localize content for cultural sensitivity and language accommodations and offer additional information and resources for your customers.
  • Customer support – developing a solid, trusting relationship with customers is important to your company’s success; an online presence provides you with the opportunity to develop this bond with customers through different communication platforms such as customer support services, Q&As and other tools.
  • New customers – for companies only doing business in Canada or select markets, taking your business online can extend your reach and help you to quickly develop a global network. Additionally, monitoring online activity and customer demand can help you determine what market(s) merit further expansion as your company grows.

Market Highlight: E-commerce sales to consumers in the United States (US)

Doing business in the US is a common undertaking for many Canadian businesses. The market is both profitable and close to home, supplying access to a large consumer population with business and cultural similarities to Canada. US consumers are also familiar with sourcing goods online and spend billions annually shopping from the convenience of their home or office to buy from vendors worldwide.

Did you know? Canada and the US exchanged over C$854.3 billion in total goods and services in 2016 – a direct result of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Marketing your products & services

An online presence can help boost your profile, increase your competitive standing and attract more traffic and potential sales.

According to a study by Forrester Consulting in 2016, almost half of Canadian B2B sellers reported that over 25% of their overall sales take place online. This means knowing how to use online marketplaces and/or creating your own website are key.


  • E-commerce marketplaces – such as Amazon, Alibaba Group, and eBay, are becoming increasingly popular and offer an additional option for Canadian companies to join established platforms. These marketplaces allow you to sell your product or service through the platform as a third party, and transactions are processed by the marketplace operator.
  • Sector specific marketplaces are also available for you to sell your product or service as well, allowing you to hone in on your target audience. Some examples include Newegg (computer hardware and electronics) and Etsy (hand-made/vintage items).
  • Omni channel marketing – today more than ever, companies are using multiple platforms to promote their product or service. It is important to maintain consistency between these different platforms, and to embrace new trends and technological upgrades, such as mobile searching and phone-friendly webpages. For more tips, see BDC’s how-to guide on Omni channel marketing.

Market Highlight: E-commerce sales to consumers in the European Union (EU)

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) provides Canada with preferential access to the world’s second largest economy and Canada’s second largest trading partner after the US. With extensive opportunity for international growth for Canadian companies, a standalone chapter on E-commerce has been developed under CETA. The chapter concentrates on addressing the ever-growing importance of exporting online in a global economy:

  • Customs Duties on Electric Deliveries – a permanent suspension of customs duties for digital products transmitted electronically from Canada and the EU.
  • Economic Development – commitment to clarity and transparency of regulations, promotion of innovation and facilitation of E-commerce use among small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).
  • Dialogue on E-commerce – hyper-awareness of E-commerce threats such as spam and fraud and other international E-commerce issues, laws and regulations.

Company Website

  • Search word optimization – carefully selecting key words will increase your company’s traffic; however, picking too many key words can reduce your overall standing on search engines. Take time to consider what descriptive elements of your company’s products or services are essential and unique before selecting key words.
  • Networking – adding links to other valid businesses will increase your website’s legitimacy and help you to develop a support network. This is also an effective way to attract incoming traffic to your website. Furthermore, linking to reliable sources will rank your webpages higher in terms of their placement in search engine results.


A strong marketing and branding strategy can lead to your company’s online success. Keep your brand consistent and applicable to your target audience, and ensure that you are not violating intellectual property rights with your trademark.

Common E-commerce challenges

Similar to entering any new market, there are challenges that may arise associated with the process of selling online. The following are some of the most common E-commerce challenges that businesses face:

  • Return policies – clearly delineate the return policies for your product prior to selling online to consumers abroad to ensure customer expectations are managed to secure their post-purchase satisfaction and avoid any costly returns.
  • Online transactions – ensure that you know which online payment systems you will be using. If your target market and pay system are incompatible, you will need to re-think 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 trade abroad. Developing partnerships 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 certain destinations that may pertain to the market(s) you’re interested in.

Market Highlight: Entering the Chinese Market

China has the world’s largest E-commerce market – expected to be worth USD $1 trillion by 2019. China is an expanding market that provides plenty of opportunities for Canadian companies looking to go online and establish a foothold in the market.

Middle-class Chinese consumers are turning to countries like Canada with high-quality goods and services that are safe and reliable. In particular, marketplaces (platforms where products/services are provided by multiple third parties) are becoming increasingly popular – such as Amazon, Alibaba Group and Taobao.

An Introduction to E-commerce in China explores the steps necessary to help you delve into this vast new online market.

E-commerce requirements and regulations

While exporting online is a profitable business opportunity that has grown exponentially in recent years, it is critical to be informed about online requirements and laws.

E-commerce complexity intensifies with different currencies, varied hosting options, and offshore manufacturing and warehousing. Trade Commissioners located worldwide can assist your company as you navigate the local business environment in a particular market.

Familiarize yourself with the following requirements to increase your legitimacy and develop a trusting relationship between your company and customers:

Are you export ready?

The Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting will help you to:

  • Sell to more customers. Target global buyers online.
  • Enter more markets. Leverage the benefits of free trade.
  • Save time & avoid risks. Learn the legal aspects of trade.

Download this free guide and gain access to all TCS export publications through MY TCS.

Access these additional resources:

Consult these market overviews of E-commerce trends*:

*(source: Agriculture & Agri-food Canada)