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Trade Commissioner Service  > Export guides and statistics > E-commerce - Grow your business presence

E-commerce

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 who are looking to start doing business online with customers abroad, or who are already selling internationally.

Access pertinent information and resources for your business to better understand what it means to go digital.

It’s time for digital adoption

Traditionally, running a business meant having physical office space and in-person contact with your network of clients, suppliers, partners, and others. Spaces like boardrooms, sales floors, and practices like shaking hands were part of doing good business. Now, many businesses are shifting to a digital first model, or plan to operate entirely online.

Going digital is more than just buying the right software or launching a website. It means understanding and adopting the right technologies and business processes to:

Digital adoption can save your company money, create a more flexible work environment, and allow you to sell more easily to customers around the world. It can fuel your growth and help you succeed.

Due to COVID-19, many businesses are slowing down, stepping back and re-shaping their business model. Take this time to adopt a digital strategy that will accelerate your resilience and competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

What is digital adoption?

Digital adoption is more than just taking your business online. It’s the idea that as you adopt digital tools for your business, that you fully understand their capabilities and use them to the fullest extent. To do this, you may have to upskill yourself and your team, or hire people who have the technical skills to develop and implement a successful digital strategy.

Be cautious of buying expensive tools for your business thinking they will solve problems and help create efficiencies. It is important to first understand how they fit within your organization or how to use them. Sometimes, business owners will spend thousands of dollars on tools that they do not use to their full potential or weren’t the right tool to begin with. This ultimately costs their companies valuable resources.

By going digital, you might be juggling new websites, chatbots, analytics and communications tools all at the same time, which can be overwhelming even for tech savvy team members. To help your company make the most of its digital transformation, ensure you have the right skills on your team. Depending on your needs, you can invest in upskilling with a digital-first mindset, or hire new talent on your team.

Develop your digital strategy

A comprehensive digital adoption strategy must bring together all of your business functions, both domestic and international. Begin by assessing your needs, mapping out which parts of your business are suitable for digitization and developing a plan. Looking at the big picture can help you choose technologies that work well together without overlapping capabilities.

When developing your strategy and assessing potential solutions, consider the following questions:

In this guide, we’ll focus specifically on the aspects of your digital strategy related to selling your goods and services around the world.

Get support from the TCS and our partners

The Trade Commissioner Service and our partners have different support to help you start and grow your e-commerce business.

Funding and support available to you.

Build your global digital support team

A successful digital strategy requires a strong digital support team. Make sure you have these resources supporting you as you adopt a digital strategy and roll it out globally:

Technical support

Ensure you have technical support for the platforms you use for your website and other aspects of your digital adoption. Have an agreement or contract in place with your service provider to fix problems or make changes rapidly. Or, consider hiring in-house technical staff.

Customer support

If you have a website in multiple languages, make sure you have customer support in those languages too. Look into using chatbots, online customer support chat and rapid email response in the languages you support.

Payment processing

Select an e-commerce solution that has a built in payment processor to serve your target markets.

Supply chain management

Think about how you will get your product to your customers. This includes shipping, but could also include warehousing goods in markets where you do business. Talk to potential supply chain management providers and see how they can integrate with your company’s digital solutions for customer support and inventory control. Make sure the companies you work with have experience with international business issues such as dealing with customs.

People on the ground

Traditionally companies have relied on business travel to reach customers in foreign markets. Sales people, technical staff, and service providers would travel to close deals and provide on-site support for customers. To reduce your reliance on business travel, you can use a combination of technology and people on the ground. Consider hiring staff or contractors or finding business partners in your target markets to help you serve your customers.

Legal expertise

Make sure you have a good lawyer who can advise you on legal matters related to doing business internationally over the Internet.

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

Cybersecurity

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.

Cybersecurity resources

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

Enable e-commerce

Solutions

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:

Online marketplaces

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.

Template-based storefronts

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:

Shopify Compass offers a wealth of online courses, webinars and features plenty of frequently updated e-commerce content.

Retailer websites

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.

Logistics

When selling online you’ll need to consider key logistical issues such as:

Shipping

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).

Pricing

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:

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.

Returns

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).

Packaging

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.

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:

Many small local service providers are starting to move to digital models, for example:

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:

Promote your business online

An important step to going digital is ensuring your business has a distinguished online presence. Your website should have:

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:

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!

Online promotion resources

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 can take advantage of government programs to get started. The Trade Commissioner Service’s CanExport for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises offers up to $75,000 to:

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!

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