With the world online, Canadian businesses can reach beyond borders and connect with new customers

Gopi Kallayil / October 2020

Small businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy. They have a unique understanding of customers across Canada’s vast landscape and what products and services best meet their needs. Throughout the pandemic, people have turned to local businesses for critical products and services, and to be supportive of entrepreneurs in need. This will continue through the holiday season.

But the pandemic has hit small businesses hard. Almost every Canadian business owner has had to make drastic changes and quickly shift strategies to stay afloat, or meet unprecedented surges in digital demand. E-commerce has grown as much as 200% YoY in Canada.1

This sudden rise in online shopping has helped some small businesses reach their communities during the pandemic but it has also created a bridge across borders into new markets. Canadian businesses now have an unprecedented opportunity to export.

Research shows fewer than 10% of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses export2 — yet those that do are more likely to survive. Even with 39% of all clicks to Canadian advertisers coming from overseas,3 Canada’s e-commerce activity still only accounts for 1% of global e-commerce sales.4

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Expanding your business into new territory is a learning process but there are ways to test-and-learn and analyze markets to find where to focus efforts first.

Consider the digital realities in new markets

These days, we don’t just go online — we live online. We love our devices and the power they give us to not only have our needs met, but anticipated.

As more people move online, there are key trends to pay attention to. Of the world’s 2 billion digital shoppers,5 a significant number are making purchases on their mobile devices. This can have implications on consumer behaviour, how you reach them, and your product offering. Will your customers shop more via apps and mobile? What are the preferred ways of processing payments?

Recognize that different markets have different digital needs and realities. When Google began expanding its product offerings into developing markets like India, Nigeria, and Brazil, we noticed people heavily monitoring their phone storage. We built the Files app to make it easier for users with lower phone storage to manage stuff on their phones. What started as a solution for a few specific markets evolved into something much bigger. The app is now used by 100 million people worldwide and is a great example of how a product’s use can shift based on the market.

Immerse yourself in insights from the markets you want to expand into, to develop a rich understanding of their needs.

Adapt your products and messaging to stay relevant

International campaigns can’t be one-size-fits-all. While localizing your campaigns and messaging for each region can feel intimidating, there are easy places to start. Translation services can help translate campaigns into local languages, or localization tools to adapt apps for different markets.

When getting started, immerse yourself in insights from the markets you want to expand into, to develop a rich understanding of their needs and what’s driving them. Tools like Google Trends can help you identify what people are searching for locally and potential product needs. Then, if possible, adapt your messaging and product offerings to stay relevant in the new market.

With Google Maps, it was only when we spent time with drivers in the field that we discovered a flaw in Google Maps for users in India. Motorcycles and scooters are a popular way to get around and two-wheelers make it easy for people to weave through traffic in some of the country’s most populated cities, like Delhi and Jakarta. It’s a very different picture than North American cities, which are dominated by cars.

By riding alongside two-wheeler drivers, the team gained a better understanding of how and why drivers made decisions. They picked up on important details, like how people navigated, where their phone sat, and common shortcuts. All of this gave our research team better insight into which features would be most helpful, and allowed them to develop specific routes and arrival times geared to moped drivers.

Know where your customers are coming from and consider how you can make it easier for them to buy.

Understand who is looking for your brand or products and why

Pivoting your business or expanding into new markets can be intimidating. It can come with a lot of questions, unknowns, exploration. However, one of the valuable aspects of digital is that marketers can access a range of insights about where customers are coming from and what people around the globe are searching for.

Consider how you can make it easier for them to buy. Of the billion users who recently came online in 2019, half were from emerging markets like India, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. Are you paying close attention to where your customers are coming from, and are you prepared for them?

Connecting with international consumers where they’re already looking to interact with your brand is a good place to start. Analyzing global trends and market data can help you anticipate the ways your brand can adapt to better meet the needs of different markets.

Free tools like Market Finder can help provide guidance on next steps, like localization, international payments, and logistics. As you consider online payment providers, take note of local buyers’ preferred payment methods and ways to reflect local currency or conversion rates. Set clear delivery and return expectations, both in terms of timing and cost. These insights can help businesses feel more confident about their strategies, and test-and-learn, instead of feeling like they need to make guesses or permanent decisions.

Just as global e-commerce trends will continue to shift, Canadians can continue to adapt their cross-border strategies and be ready for new opportunities as they arise.

For more insights and resources for exporting your business into global markets, check out Google’s Market Finder tool or visit Export Development Canada (EDC) for free hands-on support.

How to stay on top of market trends in a dynamic environment