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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 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.

Enable e-commerce

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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.

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!

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:

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

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

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 $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!

E-commerce resources and TCS partners

Trade Commissioner Service partners

Online promotion resources

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.

Related guidance:

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)

Consult the Adobe Summit session catalogue for more information.

Paris Retail Week (September 28-30, 2021)

To learn more visit the Paris Retail Week event page.

NRF (National Retail Federation) Chapter 2 (June 2022)

For additional details, visit the NFR chapter 2 web page.

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