indicatorThe Owl

The growing importance of e-retail in Canada

Canadians spent $12.3 billion buying things online from Canadian retailers in 2016 compared to $22.0 billion in 2019

By ATB Economics 8 February 2021 2 min read

When it comes to shopping, there are three broad types of people.

First, is the hardcore traditionalist. Happy to get out of the house, they like to hop in the car, hit a bunch of good old fashioned “brick and mortar” stores, leave loaded down with bags and get some exercise walking around trying to remember where they parked.

Second, is the diehard online shopper. Glued to their phone (which they never use to make or take an actual call), they want to buy everything online and can’t wait until drones are able to drop off a bottle of vitamin-enriched water while they are hiking on a fantastic mountain trail they found on the “AllTrails” app.

Third, is the rest of us. Sure, we order stuff via Amazon and are thrilled when it arrives, like, the very next day! But we also support local shops and have been spotted in the food fair at the mall more than once. We still like trying on jeans at the store before buying them even if we checked out the latest styles online. And we are just as likely to wander around IKEA for three hours after eating way too many Swedish meatballs as we are to order a “Friheten” or “Svenshult” from the website.

All three groups are important but the third group is the largest and—notwithstanding a future in which drone delivery in 30 minutes or less is the norm—likely will be for some time. This is why retailers need to be extremely savvy when it comes to how they sell their products. Some shoppers are looking for a unique in-person experience; others want maximum convenience. Some want one thing today and another thing tomorrow.

One thing is for sure: shopping online was gaining in popularity before the pandemic and has become even more popular during it. Canadians spent $12.3 billion buying things online from Canadian retailers (purchases made by Canadian consumers from foreign-based retailers are excluded) in 2016 compared to $22.0 billion in 2019. Over the first 11 months of 2020, it was up to $32.8 billion or 6.0 per cent of total retail sales. 

Even if many of us head back to the mall after COVID, the online option will not be just de rigueur, but an essential—and growing—part of most retail businesses.

These and other themes related to the future of retail are explored in the latest episode of ATB’s The Future Of Podcast. In the Season 2 debut, Pippa and Neige Blair, founders of Routine Natural Goods, join ATB Financial’s Chief Economist Todd Hirsch to discuss the lessons they learned when they moved into the e-commerce space and how they took their local business to the global marketplace.

Answer to the previous trivia question: The age range included in the Labour Force Survey is all persons aged 15 and over.

Today’s trivia question: In The Future Of Retail podcast episode with Routine Natural Goods, Pippa and Neige talk about their distributors in Dubai. How long does it take for a customer in Dubai to receive Routine products to their door after ordering online?

Canadians spent $12.3 billion buying things online from Canadian retailers in 2016 compared to $22.0 billion in 2019

Canadians spent $12.3 billion buying things online from Canadian retailers in 2016 compared to $22.0 billion in 2019


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