Canada’s e-commerce moment is now: Here’s what retailers need to know

Eric Morris / May 2020

Canada is in the middle of an e-commerce moment. No business could have predicted this sudden shift to digital right now — but COVID-19 has forced Canadian retailers big and small to adopt or adapt e-commerce strategies quickly in order to stay open-for-business.

This unprecedented shift online is leveling the e-commerce playing field. Less established retailers suddenly have an opportunity to reach new customers, and all retailers must throw out the old playbook — those rules no longer apply.

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Research shows that in April, 60% of Canadians used search to see “what is open or closed near me.”1 Consumers are quickly shifting their shopping habits, the products they’re looking for, and where they’re buying from, but businesses can be there at this moment. Here are some recent retail trends we’re following, and resources to help you meet them now.

Consumers are shopping online right now

E-commerce is accelerating, and retailers need to act fast. Google Trends shows a big spike in Canadian search interest for “buy online” over the last few months.2 In late March, global search volume for curbside pickup grew 70% in one week (e.g., ‘curbside pickup near me’, ‘what is curbside pickup’).3 These trends aren’t surprising, with much of the country at home and many stores closed to walk-in traffic.

But research also shows consumers are open-minded at this moment, and open to buying from new places because their usual stores are closed. According to Ipsos research between April 16-19, over 25% of consumers said they tried a new brand or product due to unavailability of their regular brand.4

Retailers should make sure their available products and stock can be found online. Make sure you’re actively communicating any changes to products on your website, and any changes to your business through social channels and your Google My Business profile. Social apps have become essential tools for communicating with customers, so ensure yours are current and helpful.

Clearly communicate your delivery timelines, delivery zones and ordering options, using language like “contactless, curbside pick up.”

Products are trending in bursts

There used to be a lot of predictability around how and when people searched for products, especially seasonal ones. For example, people looked for bathing suits and patio furniture in the summer, fall fashions and backpacks for back-to-school.

Try to anticipate future trends by thinking about the ways people’s lives are changing, and what they may need a month from now.

But yesterday’s trends don’t apply right now. We’re now seeing a lot more variety in what people are searching for and when, with bursts of interest for things like jogging pants5 and basketball nets,6 or vegetable seeds.7 Some bursts are driven by sudden needs, like products for working from home, home-schooling kids, or health considerations. Others are driven by people’s changing hobbies and habits as they adjust to life at home: things like games and puzzles,8 running shoes9 and baking, including a spike in search interest around “where to buy yeast.”10

Retailers need to stay close to current market trends to catch those unexpected bursts of interest. Try to anticipate future trends by thinking about the ways people’s lives are changing, and what they may need a month from now.

For example, when Canadians began working from home in early March, we saw search interest for office chairs rise by more than 100%.11 A month later, after people had long been cut off from their barbers and hairdressers, search interest for hair clippers spiked by more than 800%.12

Google Trends and Google Alerts can help you monitor and track search interest in your product and category. Make sure all of your products can be found online and think about how your products and stores can best meet needs now.

E-commerce is here to stay — keep up the momentum

We’re all operating in crisis mode right now, but that doesn’t mean we need to be shortsighted. Take the necessary actions now to plan your long-term digital strategy, and how you’ll keep up with e-commerce the rest of the year and beyond.

Use this time to check your digital hygiene. Make use of easy checkout processes, ensure your website and product information is up-to-date, that delivery information is clear and accurate, and that social channels are working. Google has free diagnostics tools that can quickly help you test your mobile site speed and evaluate the effectiveness of your retail website.

People may continue to shop online even after stores reopen, and omnichannel marketing strategies will be more important than ever.

Make sure your websites stay open. If you become overwhelmed by online orders or are having a hard time fulfilling orders, resist the urge to shut down your website. There are little things you can do to manage the flow, like pausing checkout options but allowing people to browse, add-to-cart and purchase later.

Shopping seasons like Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Boxing Day are coming, and retailers will still need to be there. Have an online holiday strategy ready and think about how your products will be relevant, based on scenarios for where society may be. If physical distancing measures are in place over holidays, how much more important could e-commerce be, and how will shipping and delivery impact orders? What types of gifts could people mail to loved ones? What types of clothing will people be looking for?

Finally, remember to plan for the recovery phase. People may continue to shop online even after stores reopen, and omnichannel marketing strategies will be more important than ever.

Canadian retailers may have entered this e-commerce moment unexpectedly, but these are all easy and accessible ways to meet this digital moment now, and in the future. Make sure your products are there for a world of new customers online, stay on top of fast-changing consumer trends and needs, and make sure you’re set up now for an e-commerce future.

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