Connectivity and online behaviour in Canada

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For those looking at the Canadian eCommerce market for the first time, it will probably look very familiar; with typical online behaviour that’s similar to other western counties.


Its sophisticated infrastructure has created an online landscape that will likely differ very little from that of a domestic market. This section looks at the details of Canadian shoppers’ behaviour online, and examines some of the demographic nuances in internet access, online activity, and device preferences.


Key Points

  • Internet penetration is highly developed. Although there is a rural / urban divide, it is the kind familiar back home – poor broadband reach, slightly lower penetration – and not the extreme kind seen in some less developed markets such as India or even Russia where almost all broadband is concentrated in cities
  • Your website needs to support the same device range as it already does
  • Probably the only real challenge in terms of mindset and planning at this stage is the use of French in Quebec. If you propose to use a .CA domain name, then offering a French-English switch version of your site is pretty much mandatory. If you are at an earlier stage, and just considering Canada as a ‘ship-to’ destination, then you are probably giving up somewhere between 10% and 20% of potential target consumers by not offering a French version

Domain naming

Canadian domain names have the extension .CA; in principle, its usage requires reading and accepting the Canadian Internet Registration Agreement (CIRA).

Access to the internet

Among the G8 countries, Canada ranks #2 for internet access, just behind the UK, with 87% of households connected in 2014, and #16 in the world1 overall. In practice, given the remoteness of certain areas – only 27% of communities in far northern Nunavut had access, for example – internet connectivity is exceptionally high among consumers who are realistic targets for overseas retailers.


A key exception is, in fact, Quebec, where household connectivity2 was only 78% in 2014. This tends to lend weight to a strategy which de-prioritises French translation from any initial entry strategy.


As might be expected, there is not only a significant urban / rural divide, but also a wealth divide; 95% of Canadians in the top wealth quartile had internet connections, while only 62% in the poorest quartile3 did so.


Broadband access is universal in urban areas, and even in rural areas is over 85%, while typical broadband speeds are superior to those in most countries including UK, France, Germany, Australia or US (Sources: Telegen and OECD).


Canadians are generally enthusiastic internet users (Figure 1):


Average monthly hours online in Canada

Figure 1: internet engagement by country (Source: comScore 2013)

Demographics of users

Canada shows a typical developed-nation profile of internet usage demographics – universal take-up amongst the young, dropping off slightly with age – but with a somewhat atypical shortage of silver-surfers. If your proposition is targeted primarily at consumers aged 60+, then Canada is perhaps not currently the best target, although this is changing rapidly.

Usage of Internet by Age in Canada

Figure 2: Internet usage by age (Source: Statcan Canadian Internet Use survey)


As we will see in more detail below, online shopping has not, until rather recently, been one of the main uses Canadians have made of the internet. In fact, a glance at primary internet usages by device seems to suggest that Canadians are particularly keen on enjoying themselves online, more so than many other countries.


Although this is a rather superficial snapshot, it may be worth bearing in mind when considering online marketing approaches in Canada (following graphic).

What Canadians do online

Figure 3: what Canadians do online (Source: Canadian Internet Registration Authority, 2014)


Device usage in Canada follows a typical western pattern. Mobile and then smartphone adoption was slightly later than in many countries (Source: TNS mobile life) due to generally higher data charges, hence the apparently slightly lower than typical take-up, but catch-up is rapid (Figure 4).


If you are planning a website for Canada, you can likely assume that the device access to it will be comparable to your current domestic profile; the usual requirements for mobile sites and / or responsive design therefore apply in Canada just as much as they do back home.

Devices used for Internet Access in Canada

Figure 4: Internet access by device type (Source: Google Consumer Barometer 2015)

For more information on the Canadian eCommerce Market, download the FREE Canada Country Guide.





1 - CIRA - Canadian Internet Report

2 - CIRA - Canadian Internet Report

3 - CIRA - Canadian Internet Report

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