With one of the most stable political environment in the world and a strong record of economic growth, Canada presents a wide range of opportunities for foreign investors across all sectors. The country offers a close proximity and easier access to the US market, but you’ll find many other advantages to develop strong commercial ties with the Great White North.
With a strong business and consumer base and one of the soundest banking systems in the world, it’s no surprise that Forbes ranked Canada as the second-best country in the G20 to do business with. Canada has one of the most transparent legislatures and the most educated workforce in the world with half of its working-age population having completed a tertiary level education. And they want you to know that “eh” is listed as a real world in the dictionary.
The federal structure of the Canadian’s government means that taxation and business activities are regulated at the federal, provincial, and local levels. First time exporters can therefore find it challenging to navigate through all the different levels of regulation. But these are small hurdles compared to the huge benefit of doing business with Canada. And that’s one thing Canadians’s are not sorry about.
In this guide, we will guide you through the process of reaching Canada’s consumers, successfully making sales on ecommerce channels, and getting your products to reach the desired consumers.
Easily the most multi-lingual country in our Country Guides, Canada is home to over 200 living languages, two of which (English and French) are listed as the official languages. Approximately 98% of the Canadian population reported that it was able to hold a working conversation in either English or French. This linguistic duality presents an obstacle for retailers, sometimes requiring multilingual customer care and sites in both French and English in order to be successful. 
Prevalent online spenders in Canada are more likely to be older (35yrs and over) than in other parts of the Americas, although consistent with younger age groups, books and entertainment are the most popular items purchased. Light, medium and heavy shoppers in Canada are consistent in general preference regarding aspects of online shopping that encourage extra spending. Light shoppers are engaged by conventional shopping needs (flexible returns policy), medium shoppers look to avoid registering in order to purchase and heavy shoppers are driven by a more engaging online experience. Regarding payment preference, PayPal has considerable presence in Canada with 69% of shoppers having used PayPal in the past 6 months (global average 40%). 
Social network user numbers are on the rise in Canada and it is projected that this trend will continue, reaching 20.4 million social media users by 2018. Advertising expenditures on social media are expected to reach nearly $835 million CAD by the end of 2017.
Generational usage studies show that consumers between the ages of 18 and 24 spent on average 48 minutes daily with a social network in 2014. Canadian millennials use social media differently from other age groups, with YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat the most used sites. The older consumers are, the less likely they are to have tried any social media network. Social media usage among women is growing steadily across all networks, and growth among Canadian men is slower by comparison. Women are using visual social networks more, with Instagram and Pinterest seeing more growth. LinkedIn growth among Canadian males is almost double the usage of women on that network.
A 2016 survey from InsightsWest determined that Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram use is still growing at a healthy pace overall in Canada, while Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Reddit usage has slowed down. Among the general population, most time spent accessing different social platforms was via smartphones, followed by desktops and tablets. 
Canadians predominantly buy media products online (almost 30% of the overall market, global average: 9%). All other product categories are purchased far below the global average. 
The major consumer “buying holidays” are like those in the United States: Christmas (December 25), Back-to-School (August), Mother’s Day (May), Valentine’s Day (February 14), Easter (March/April), Father’s Day (June) and Halloween (October 31). Canada also sees a rise in sales around the fourth quarter holidays, most notably Cyber Week, the buying period that begins on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 
Given the increasing access to and dominant presence of younger consumers on social media sites, digital ads have more consistently targeted social media rather than the traditional online news and information portals or information sources. Currently, 36 percent of digital ads are placed on social media, 18 percent on entertainment sites, and 12 percent on portals. The remaining ads are placed on news and information sites and directories, among others.
In terms of consumer preferences, young consumers have shown a greater trend toward mobile purchases and are more responsive to mobile ads. Another preference in Canada is for video advertising: per Com Score, mobile commerce (m-commerce) is on the rise, given increasing mobile connectivity of smartphones and tablets. Digital advertising now has surpassed TV advertising revenues and is poised to become the favorite advertising venue in Canada.
Canadian consumers are slightly more critical when it comes to advertising media. Only search engines are considered to be usefull by two thirds of respondents. 
As one of the world’s heaviest users of the internet, Canadians have embraced electronic commerce amid a major disruption in retail channels. Per eMarketer, as of March 2017, retail ecommerce sales totaled approximately C$1.2 billion. Retailers are investing in digital platforms to reach consumers dispersed over a vast land mass while responding to competition from global e-tailers such as Amazon. In fact, by 2015, 84 percent of Canadians had purchased something online and more than 20 percent of Canadians shopped online about once per month. It is estimated that there will be 20 million digital buyers in Canada who will spend $50 billion annually online by 2019, representing 10 percent of all retail purchases in Canada. Twenty-seven percent of Canadians have shopped online once a month and it is estimated that the ecommerce industry will reach C$50 billion by 2020, representing 10 percent of all retail purchases in Canada.
Canadian consumers increasingly rely upon the internet to place orders. For the past decade, internet consumer sales have risen at a far higher rate than traditional retail sales. Most Canadian retail firms have adopted wireless technologies and internet-based systems to improve business-to-business and business-to-consumer relations. Manufacturing firms and government organizations are also increasingly likely to use the internet for purchases, especially for small routine orders.
The Canadian ecommerce market closely resembles that of the United States and therefore shares some of the trends in the retailers to the south. Trends shaping the Canadian e‑commerce market include:
Hybrid purchases/ “Click and Collect” – so-called “omnichannel” consumers order goods online and pick them up in a brick and mortar store.
Marketing through social media – return on investment for using social media is constantly improving; retailers increasingly spend marketing dollars on social media ads.
Cybersecurity – fraud is a growing concern for Canadian retailers. Tools that help companies detect and deter cybercriminals are becoming more easily available and affordable, with integration often built into a company’s strategic planning.
Migration to mobile payments/” mPOS (mobile Point-Of-Sale)” – continues to increase in Canada.
Although approximately 88.5 percent of all Canadians have access to stable internet service, the users primarily live in the more urban areas of the country. Internet access provides a crucial link to the rest of the world for residents in remote communities in Canada’s north, but delivering high-speed services remains costly and difficult.
The growth of ecommerce is due not only to the volume of purchases, but also to the breadth of goods and services Canadians purchase. Media products, including books, music, apps, and show tickets top the list, followed by apparel and footwear, flights and travel packages, consumer electronics, and household goods.
Although Canadians prefer to support Canadian businesses, a significant proportion of the nation’s ecommerce spending goes to non-Canadian websites. One-third of the total spending is in the United States and the rest in Asia (primarily China) and Europe. In fact, 67 percent of online purchases Canadians made in 2016 were from other countries. Canada has many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), but the companies have been slow to enter the e‑commerce industry. Canadians cite lower prices and better selection as some reasons for shopping outside the country.
Due to Canada’s strong economy and proximity to the United States, retailers aspire to tap into the growing ecommerce market in Canada. For U.S. retailers who are selling beyond their borders for the first time, Canada offers an easy cross-border opportunity with similar taxes, fees, and shipping safety. How-to websites, such as CrossBorderShopping.ca, have also been created for the sole purpose of aiding Canadian consumers through the process, providing price comparison tools and outlining areas such as return policies, taxes, and restrictions.
Virtually all Canadian small business owners report making online purchases. Large numbers of business owners are opting to purchase their travel online and are more likely to access government services or office supplies online.
Canada’s ecommerce infrastructure is highly developed and closely integrated with that of the United States. Broadband internet access is offered throughout Canada using much of the same equipment as in the United States. Information flows freely across the border, and without difficulty. U.S. companies do not need to set up a separate website. Many U.S. companies have integrated Canadian transactions into their current websites. Others maintain a distinct “.ca” domain. U.S. companies selling to Canadian business and consumers over the internet should have procedures in place to meet Canadian customs requirements and pricing in Canadian dollars. More than 200 languages are spoken in Canada. English and French are official languages. This linguistic duality can present an obstacle for retailers, sometimes requiring multilingual customer care and sites to be successful.
U.S. companies need to comply with Canada’s federal data privacy laws, including the Privacy Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), as well as provincial privacy laws. PIPEDA requires persons or firms that collect personal information during commercial activities to inform the subject of all possible uses of the data and to obtain consent for the use.
Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) took effect on July 1, 2014 and was scheduled to come into full effect July 1, 2017, however a cabinet order dated June 2, 2017, indefinitely repeals that July coming-into-force date so Parliament can examine the legislation.
CASL significantly limits the way companies send Commercial Electronic Messages (CEM). A CEM is defined as any electronic message intended to encourage participation in a commercial activity. An electronic message includes email, text messages, VoIP phones, digital radio, digital TV, and some aspects of social media. Under CASL, the sender of a CEM must have express or implied permission before sending the recipient a CEM. Although CASL does not ban sending CEMs, the law requires that senders obtain prior consent before sending the CEM. Senders must also provide identifying information in all CEMs. This information must be valid for 60 days after the message is sent. All CEMs must also include an obvious unsubscribe mechanism.
MasterCard is the preferred credit card scheme in Canada, with 53.6% share.
Canadians prefer cards, accounting for 65% of transactions. But e-wallets comprise 23.2% of the payments market, which is dominated by PayPal (22%). Bank transfers make up 3.3% of transactions, while offline cash payments account for a further 7.2%.
Cash on delivery, prepayment, direct debit, and payment upon invoice are far behind. While every second person ‘never’ uses these pay- ment methods in the interna- tional comparison, more than three quarters never use them in Canada.
Over 17% of Canadians make online retail purchases via mobile devices more than once a week, and omni-channel fulfillment initiatives are growing in popularity.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) placed Canada on the Watch List in 2017 in its annual Special 301 report on IPR. The United States remains deeply concerned that Canada does not provide customs officials with the ability to detain, seize, and destroy pirated and counterfeit goods that are moving in transit or are transshipped through Canada. Other concerns relate to Canada’s failure to implement certain provisions of its copyright reforms and protection of pharmaceutical patents.
There are several methods online vendors can use to collect payment in Canada, the most popular being credit card-based – Instadebit, Interac Online, and PayPal — but some vendors also offer the option for prepaid card or prepaid voucher. MasterCard is the preferred credit card in Canada, with 53.6 percent share of the market; Visa closely follows with 41.3 percent and American Express with 5.1 percent.
In 2016, 25 percent of Canadians made online retail purchases with their mobile devices and this trend is growing. Millennial consumers (ages 18-34) lead the trend, with 41 percent of these shoppers purchasing via digital devices at least once a week.
Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting http://export.gov/usoffices.
The Canadian consumer is quite relaxed regarding delivery speed. He knows: It takes time to deliver goods to remote areas. It is more important that shipment is free and that a delivery date is provided when the order is placed. 
A gratifyingly low rate of returns of 4.3% shows that the Canadian consumer does not like to return ordered goods. There are on average 0.2 returns per customer which is significantly below the global reference value. With 40.9% the classic fashion faux pas is the most common return reason: The product does not fit. It also happens that a consumer is not happy with a product in general (30.6%). Compared to the international comparative values, a product is less frequently returned due to defects or quality issues. 
The duty valuation method is FOB (Free on Board), which means that the import duty is calculated exclusively on the value of the imported goods. In addition to duty, imports may be subject to other taxes such as GST/PST/HST and excise. Duty rates in Canada range between 0% and 35%, where the average duty rate is 8.56%. 
In general, all existing laws that apply to traditional commerce apply equally in an electronic environment. These include things like laws governing business incorporation, business name registration, taxation, consumer protection, deceptive advertising, importing/exporting, product safety, product standards, criminal code, inter-provincial trade treaties, intellectual property and liability. Your business, regardless of its size, must comply with the laws of any jurisdiction, both within and outside of Canada, where it is deemed to be conducting business. 
As of 1 March 2017, the Bank of Canada began publishing new exchange rates for 26 currencies, once each business day by 16:30 ET. Until 28 April 2017, the legacy noon and closing exchange rates will be published in parallel with the new rates to allow users time to make any necessary adjustments. As of 1 May 2017, the Bank will publish only the single daily rate described above.