Grow your global presence
In today’s interconnected global business climate, COVID-19 is affecting the way Canadian companies operate. Many are turning to e-commerce as a way to translate today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities.
Canada's Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) can help companies that are ready to start doing business online with customers abroad, or those already selling internationally.
Global markets all have their nuances and a successful strategy in one country may not be successful in another. The TCS can help Canadian businesses that are looking to sell their products online in international markets in a number of ways, such as:
- helping brands access an online channel, such as an online retailer or marketplace.
- working to increase the number of Canadian products on targeted platforms in international markets.
- building global awareness of Canadian brands online.
- organizing Canada-branded events to help Canadian companies gain traction in foreign markets.
- addressing critical marketing intelligence gaps that exist in the e-commerce ecosystem across TCS markets. For example, we may introduce a company to a local contact working for a major online marketplace, or help you better understand how to tackle shipping and logistics.
Wondering if you are ready to export? If you aren't sure, you can take our quiz to find out!
Allowing customers to buy your products and services at the click of a button can increase your sales. Getting the right e-commerce solution in place to serve diverse markets around the world can be complex.
Consider these options:
Instead of selling on your own website, you can list your products through online marketplaces. Choose between a general, sector or geographic-specific marketplace to increase exposure for your products and attract customers to your business. See our list of online marketplace profiles for more information.
Companies such as Shopify offer a plug-and-play subscription-based e-commerce solution for you to sell to your customers via your own website. You can customize this solution for specific markets, which helps you:
- list products
- accept payments in other currencies
- arrange shipping to foreign markets with ease
Shopify Compass offers a wealth of online courses, webinars and features plenty of frequently updated e-commerce content.
You can choose to sell your products exclusively via existing retailers. You can sell your products in their stores and websites, or in some cases, online only.
Custom in-house solution
If you have specific needs that online marketplaces or template-based storefronts do not meet, you can develop your own e-commerce solution. This is more complex and more expensive, but may be the right solution for companies with specific needs.
Tip: Using analytics to your advantage
When you implement an e-commerce solution, one of your most powerful tools for success are analytics. By implementing and regularly reviewing analytics reports, you can gain insights about:
- who is visiting your website
- what they’re looking for
- what they put into their shopping cart
- when they leave without finalizing the purchase (shopping cart abandonment)
Whatever e-commerce solution you choose, make sure you have access to analytics that will give you valuable insight into your customers. Create a weekly or monthly process where you take time to analyze the data you gathered. Then adjust or continue the tactics you’re using to target and convert your customers.
When selling online you’ll need to consider key logistical issues such as:
Shipping can be expensive. It’s important to find out how much it will cost and to price products accordingly. To remain competitive, some companies offer free shipping, but this route can be unaffordable and unsustainable for smaller businesses. Consider enticing your customers by offering free shipping for orders of $200 or more, take part in ‘free shipping’ days or other methods. See the Step-by-step guide to shipping outside of Canada (Canada Post) for rates and best practices and information on Shippers and shipping (Trade Commissioner Service).
How to price your goods for different markets, different currencies and currency fluctuations, shipping and other costs. Pricing is a big factor in the success of your business and there are many strategies for pricing your product. For example, you can use:
- a market-oriented pricing model, which allows you to set your prices based on current market prices, selling your product for higher, the same as, or lower than competitors with the same products in your target market
- the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP), which can save you time without having to analyze the market too much
- Keystone Pricing, which is when you set the price of your product at double the cost of what you originally paid for it
These are just three potential pricing strategies, with many more out there. Whichever strategy you choose, it’s important to research your target market. This will help you to understand what your potential customers are willing to spend as well as your competitors prices. Do your homework to discover other pricing methods and which one works best for your business.
Have a return policy that is clear, simple and convenient for your customers. See Recipe for a Five-Star Returns Experience for Your Online Store (Canada Post).
Make sure your packaging meets all requirements for shipping and customs. Also consider making packaging fun with interesting designs or inspirational content. Make it stand out among the many packages that arrive in the mail.
Promote your business online
An important step to going digital is ensuring your business has a distinguished online presence. Your website should have:
- up-to-date, clear descriptions and images of your products and services
- a clear call to action (add to cart, contact us for a quote, download a trial version, etc.)
- examples of clients you’ve worked with or successful projects you’ve completed (consider adding testimonials or reviews)
- ways to connect with your customer service team
- clickable social media accounts to engage with existing and prospective customers
Most people use mobile for browsing the web, so ensure your website works well on all types of devices. You should use search engine optimization techniques to help prospective customers find you.
The more important a market is to your company, the greater the need for a country-specific version of your website. You could have one website with multiple language toggles, or have unique websites using domains such as .ca, .com, .co.uk. As a Canadian company, you can benefit from using the .ca domain because of the positive association of Canadian goods and international brand recognition.
Even if you are just beginning to sell internationally, ensure your website clearly indicates that you do sell outside of Canada (e.g. “we ship worldwide”). To reach customers around the world, consider creating different versions of your website and social media accounts for unique markets that:
- use local languages and adapt your messages to reflect cultural differences (See our guide on Intercultural Business)
- reflect any product adaptations you have made to your product or service to meet local preferences, standards or regulations
- show the packaging and labelling that you use for your product in that country
- provides pricing in the local currency
- use the domain extension common in that country (such as .uk, .fr, .jp)
- use the social media platforms that are most commonly used in your target markets
To promote your business online, consider creating an online advertising strategy. You can advertise on social media platforms, use Google ads and more, targeting large amounts of potential customers in markets around the world.
It’s important to see if your website and online channels are getting results through analytics. This includes views, clicks and conversions, e.g. when someone makes a purchase, joins your mailing list, or any other desired action based on your strategy. Remember to set up analytics for your website and other digital channels to start gathering data from the beginning. Your analytics can tell you if your tactics are working or not!
Deliver services virtually
A lot of companies are service exporters and don’t even realize it. If your company sells services to customers from other countries, you’re an exporter. Service exports can include:
- software as a service (SaaS) providers with customers outside Canada
- tourist destinations that attract guests from other countries
- education and training courses offered in person or over the Internet to international participants
- installation and maintenance services provided when a foreign customer buys equipment
- international consulting
Many small local service providers are starting to move to digital models, for example:
- professional training courses usually offered in person are moving online
- small gyms and yoga studios are moving towards training clients over the Internet
- services like healthcare, legal advice and real estate are offering digital services
Once your business has introduced a digital model to serve existing clients, you can leverage it to help grow your business into other countries.
When digitizing your service, consider these questions:
- How can you adapt your in-person service to deliver it online?
- Which technology is best to deliver the service?
- How should you tailor your service to different markets, considering language differences, cultural differences, time zones and other factors?
- Do you need to work with partners or hire local staff in other countries to help you deliver your service (e.g. for logistics, maintenance, installation)?
- How can you leverage digital technology to ensure your local staff and customers can best leverage your company’s experts?
- How should you price your digital service offering, considering the cost savings (e.g. no need to travel) and additional costs (new technology), but also the perceived value of an online service versus an in-person experience?
Sustainability and e-commerce
Sustainability has grown even more in importance during the pandemic and the explosion of e-commerce, with excessive packaging and final mile deliveries, in particular, seen as harmful to the environment in the eyes of consumers. The concept of sustainability, however, applies across the whole retail cycle from product development and sourcing, through to inbound logistics and the supply chain, to operations, selling and delivery, returns and 'second' life.
The volume of waste produced by supply chains and its impact on the environment has already led many e-commerce brands to rethink their practices and find sustainable solutions – most notably by adopting eco-friendly packaging and shipping practices. The trend in recent years shows that many retailers have already given their businesses an ecological makeover, with furniture and home accessories made of wooden pallets, paper, cardboard or cork, for example, and cruelty-free, vegan cosmetics and personal care products. Online shops are increasingly adopting green practices given demands in the market among consumers.
Protect your business in a global digital environment
When you move your business onto the Internet and open it up to the world, you need to take additional steps to protect your business from threats and competition.
Protect your intellectual property (IP)
Registering your IP in Canada only protects you in Canada. Taking your business digital and offering products and services to customers around the world can leave your intellectual property vulnerable. Take stock of your IP and develop a strategy that is aligned with your exporting plan and your digital strategy.
Intellectual property resources
Digital businesses can be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Your business should implement measures to protect your digital assets in five key areas:
You can also get insurance to help protect your business from the costs of recovering from a cyber attack.
Privacy and personal information protection
Using a digital model involves more transactions with personal information and more storage of personal information. Make sure you have practices in place that protect your customers, your employees and your business while also meeting all legal requirements.
Privacy and personal information protection resources
- Privacy Guides for Businesses including e-marketing, collecting personal information and consent, transferring data across borders and more (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada)
- General Data Protection Regulation Guidance for Canadian Businesses (Standards Council of Canada)
Funding and support available to you
Moving from a bricks and mortar to a digital first model can be daunting, but you don't need to do it alone. You can hire experts to help and take advantage of government programs to get started. The Trade Commissioner Service's CanExport for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises offers up to $50,000 to:
- help you break into international markets
- cover some costs related to digital adoption such as adaptation and translation of marketing tools
- search engine optimization
- expert advice from legal and business experts
- intellectual property protection
If you have a high-potential startup or scale-up company with an existing technology, product or service, Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA) can support your international business growth in North America, Asia, and Europe. CTA's give your business a soft landing and introductions to potential investors, partners and customers.
The Business Development Bank of Canada offers loans for businesses to purchase or upgrade their information and communications technology. This includes hardware, software and related advisory services.
Use the Innovation Canada portal to find federal and provincial government supports that could facilitate your digital strategy.
Act now to get ahead
Shifts in consumer behaviour, increased rates of online shopping as well as the impacts of COVID-19 are driving companies like yours to adopt a digital first model. By going digital, borders become less of a barrier and the world becomes your market, unleashing opportunities to tap into new customers like never before. Get started now and develop your digital strategy!
E-commerce resources and TCS partners
- Adopting e-commerce in the food and beverage industry (Trade Commissioner Service)
- Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting – Step 10 – Selling Online: e-Commerce for Exporters (Trade Commissioner Service)
- E-commerce for Business : A Platform Primer (Export Development Canada)
- The Future of Commerce is Global: Why and How to Take your Business International (Shopify)
- Canadian Free Trade Agreements and Investment Agreements (Global Affairs Canada)
- Country specific guides (Trade Commissioner Service):
Trade Commissioner Service partners
- Business Development Canada (BDC) – BDC is Canada's largest banking institution geared specifically to providing financing, capital, and advisory services to up-and-coming Canadian businesses.
- Export Development Canada (EDC) - EDC proudly partners with the Trade Commissioner Service to give companies the resources they need to expand abroad.
- Shopify – Shopify partnered with Global Affairs Canada and the Trade Commissioner Service in mid-2020 to deliver 'Go Digital Canada,' an initiative designed to bring businesses online and help them adapt to the digital economy.
Online promotion resources
- Guide: Spotlight on International Marketing: Key considerations and best practices for marketing your company internationally, including product localization, pricing, distribution, promotion (Trade Commissioner Service)
- Courses on how to set up and optimize each step of your e-commerce process (Forum for International Trade Training)
- How to build a website for your business (Business Development Bank of Canada)
- Articles on Implementing digital marketing strategies, including online marketing, content marketing, search engine optimization, online advertising, and social media (Business Development Bank of Canada)
E-Commerce events and opportunities
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
In efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, upcoming events may be cancelled, modified, or postponed. Consult the official event organizer or event website for up-to-date information.
Whether your company is new to the e-commerce and etail space or a seasoned veteran in all things digital, the Trade Commissioner Service is no stranger to the idea that networking is the key to business growth. By strengthening and creating new partnerships, events are a fantastic resource to launch your business growth. To help your company meet the right people and attain the services it needs to grow, we have come up with a list of events and opportunities that can help your company expand through learning and network development.
Adobe Summit (2022 date TBA)
- Adobe Summit provides resources and links to previous event recordings, where viewers can watch last year's summit keynote speakers.
- Presented in partnership with Magento Commerce, this event provides a large array of valuable commerce insight that goes beyond e-commerce.
- Targeting IT specialists, marketing managers, and much more, this event provides dedicated advice and resources to businesses that are looking to enhance their presence in the rapidly evolving digital space.
Consult the Adobe Summit session catalogue for more information.
Paris Retail Week (September 28-30, 2021)
- Paris Retail Week is planned to operate as an in-person event, however, following the guidelines for COVID-19, we will continue to reassess any in-person attendance.
- Paris Retail Week 2021 will bring together trade professionals at Paris Expo Porte de Versailles in an ever more experiential format. Conferences, Workshops, Pitching, Awards, Innovation Tours, Store Tours and announcements of new innovations will energize this event dedicated to sharing knowledge, experiences and best practices.
To learn more visit the Paris Retail Week event page.
NRF (National Retail Federation) Chapter 2 (June 2022)
- "Retail's Big Show," taking place in New York City, has been postponed to 2022 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
- With over 600 retail participants, NRF Chapter 2 is designed to bring your retail business the latest tech and marketing innovations, resources, ideas and connections.
- NRF Chapter 2 also provides companies with ample sponsorship opportunities to advertise their products and services.
For additional details, visit the NFR chapter 2 web page.
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