Opportunity 2013: Online Retail

With e-commerce surging around the world, Canadian retailers need to up their game, fast. Here's how to do it

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Canada should be an e-commerce leader, but we’re middle of the pack and dropping. Boston Consulting recently predicted that comparatively slow growth in Canadian online retail means we will dip from an already sluggish ninth among the G20 to 12th by 2016. And while 93% of Canadian SMEs use the Internet, only 27% accept payments online. Beat your breast about our postal system, pricey telcos or mall culture—or jump on four e-commerce movements that are growing right now:

1. Show, don’t tell

“Visual storytelling is successful at all levels,” says Andrew Harnden, chief strategy officer at Vancouver marketing agency Work at Play. If you lack the funds to add extensive photos or video demos, reach out to hobbyist “content curators” on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube and ask them to incorporate your products into their productions.

2. Mobilize

Mitch Joel, president of Montreal marketing agency Twist Image, says targeting mobile devices is essential. To see how to do it right, check out’s “virtual store” that lets consumers purchase QR-coded products right off a billboard. Retailers like Mountain Equipment Co-op digitize their stores by equipping sales reps with tablets, offering product info on in-store screens and letting consumers instantly order an out-of-stock size via smartphone.

3. Insinuate yourself

“Retail is a social event—it’s an outing, and it’s contextual,” says Harnden. Smart retailers are using social media to attach their product to the moments or feelings they want associated with their brand, as Red Bull does with high-energy stunts.

4.Expose your shipping

While U.S. retailers test GPS-based direct delivery, Canadians struggle with high rates and vast geography. Joel says transparent shipping (like Apple’s, which lets users track their iPhone “from Shenzhen to their door”) can offset that lack of instant gratification with involvement.

Read more from PROFIT’s 2013 Opportunity Guide

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