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Here is a brief overview of the Canadian eCommerce Market.

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From an economic point of view, Canada represents a good prospect market

  • It seems unlikely that any entry into Canada will be confounded by any currently-projected severe recession in the near future
  • Canadians have spending power comparable to or greater than many western European consumers
  • Accessing Quebec requires a decision whether to tackle French translation. If you intend fully localising for Canada, French is mandatory

Canada has been a sleeping giant of the online retailing world until very recently. Canada’s consumers are amongst the most connected in the world, and spend significant time online. On the other hand, Canadian businesses, including retailers, have been very slow to respond. There’s no obvious reason for this, other than inertia: the general infrastructure for online retailing is excellent and Canada Post well-equipped to support ecommerce parcels.

Canadians shop online outside Canada to an extraordinary extent: it’s claimed that almost 70% of Canadian ecommerce was cross-border in 2014.

Canadian ecommerce has now reached a tipping point, and penetration is expected to roughly double from circa 4.5% to circa 9% over the next few years, accelerated by Amazon’s presence.

For the non-Canadian retailer, this presents an almost ideal opportunity: a country of wealthy shoppers, well used to making purchases from non-domestic sites, facing badly prepared local competitors, in an infrastructural and legal environment which is sympathetic to ecommerce.

The Canadian market is over 25% larger than Benelux and over 50% larger than Australia, both typically considered prime cross-border retailing targets. Its preferred payment methods are standard, its social networking, search and general marketing environments familiar, and complexities such as taxation are less onerous than across the border in the US.

The only real barriers are slightly high customs tariffs (which may start to come down now the free trade agreement with the EU has finally been signed), the (optional) challenge of operating in French for Quebec, and somewhat higher shipping costs. None is insurmountable.

eCommerce in Canada appears to be taking off in the way that it suddenly did in Australia a few years ago. The sleeping giant is waking up…CA.rpe Diem!

Canada’s total population in 2015 was 35.8 million, up from 34.3 million in 2011. The vast majority of its population live close to the US border. There are few significant centres of population away from this border – it’s too cold. In practice, then, the vast majority of the likely purchasing population is concentrated in a narrow strip of land served by excellent infrastructure.

For context, this population is somewhat larger than the whole of Benelux (28 million) or of Australia (23 million), both typically considered prime cross-border ecommerce targets.

Province by province

Canada is a federal country, divided into provinces / territories. Importantly these have certain local powers, including variations in ecommerce-relevant matters such as sales tax (see below) as well as some local legal codes within an overall federal code covering ecommerce-relevant areas such as distance selling rules.

Population on a province-by-province basis is shown in Figure 1, together with some data about year-on-year growth rates (2014-15) of ecommerce in each based on analysis by Canada Post.

cross-border eCommerce in Canada

Happily for most ecommerce propositions, the concentration of population is primarily in easily accessible areas where credible delivery times can be offered, and in general, that’s where ecommerce is growing quickest too. On the other hand, if your range of products is particularly aimed at salmon fishermen on the upper Yukon, it’s probably best to forget about targeting Canada via ecommerce.


As might be expected the dominant language of Canada is English: 85% of Canadians have working proficiency in English. However, Canada includes Quebec, where the official language is French.

Languages spoken in Canada

The usage of French in Quebec is enshrined by the 1977 Charter of the French Language. The Charter includes the right of French speakers to be spoken to in French; similarly, every inscription on a product, on its container or on its wrapping, or on a document or object supplied with it, including the directions for use and the warranty certificates, must be drafted in French.

If you are just shipping into Canada from an existing non-Canadian website, then French could be omitted – but you’d be neglecting a target market the size of Greater London.

Go beyond that, and certainly if you intend to localise to a Canadian domain name, then translating your site into French, and offering a language switch to customers, is pretty much mandatory. Don’t forget that this includes paperwork such as invoices, delivery notes and so forth, which will need to be bilingual.


Canada is a wealthy country, with GDP / head comparable to the UK (Figure 3) and other western European countries:

GDP per Capita in Canada

Moreover, annual disposable income per household is 9% higher than the UK, at $29,365 (Source: World Bank, Feb 2015) compared to $27,029.

The Canadian economy resembles other developed economies in other familiar ways too; the prospects for ongoing growth somewhat mixed. The budget of the recently elected government included some slightly depressing data points, such as slowing of GDP growth, and business investment falling by 17% in Q1 2015. Unemployment in Canada is around 6.8% compared to 5.6% in the UK. Nevertheless, both the IMF and EIU are projecting reasonable overall GDP growth (Figure 4):

GDP growth projections in Canada

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