Canada’s evolving online shopper: What small businesses need to know

4 minute read

As ecommerce activity continues to grow and more shoppers and businesses pop up online, it’s crucial that you understand what Canadian shoppers are looking for from online retailers. What makes a business stand out? What motivates customers to click ‘buy’ or causes them to abandon their cart? What marketing tactics grab their attention?

Canada Post recently surveyed 3,000 Canadian online shoppers to see how their shopping behaviours and interactions with online retailers changed over the past year. Our goal was to enable your small business to effectively respond to their wants and needs and give your business a glimpse into what the near future is projected to look like.

The new landscape for local and online shopping

As Canadian shoppers browse and buy online, it’s important to them to support local businesses when they can. In 2021, 89 per cent of Canadian online shoppers surveyed report having made an online purchase requiring delivery. We’re continuing to see an emphasis on local and small business support, with 60 per cent responding that they make a conscious effort to buy from Canadian businesses and 44 per cent said they try to support small, independent online retailers.

The average number of purchases requiring delivery jumped from 16.6 in 2019, to 27.4 in 2021. This trend shows no sign of slowing down – 89 per cent of people plan to maintain or increase their online shopping moving forward – but that’s not to say that online is the only thing you should focus on!

If you’re selling both online and offline through a physical storefront, 81 per cent say they’ll maintain or increase their in-store shopping. That said, an online presence will be important, even crucial, to capturing shopper spend as ecommerce continues to grow, so transitioning your store into the online space is a worthwhile consideration.

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Ecommerce trends and shipping influences

With increased online stores comes increased competition. That means the pressure is on for retailers like you to attract and retain the attention of consumers. Here are three key factors that influence online shoppers’ choice of online retailers:

Cost of shipping

Shoppers don’t expect free shipping on all their orders, though it does hold an important place in online shoppers’ eyes. 80 per cent of shoppers indicated shipping cost is a major influence and 77 per cent said that they have abandoned a cart due to a retailer not offering a free shipping option.

Free isn’t the only factor: there are other shipping concerns that have caused shoppers to abandon their online carts:

  • 69 per cent jumped ship because no estimated shipping cost was indicated.
  • 92 per cent fled the scene due to cost of shipping being too high.
  • 80 per cent took flight because the threshold for free shipping was too high.

Consider setting a minimum order threshold for free shipping or offering free shipping as a promotion – either as a loyalty reward or during key selling periods when you’re looking to convert buyers in your store and respond to their expectations.

A clear delivery date

From the moment they check out, shoppers eagerly await the arrival of their online orders. 46 per cent of respondents indicated that being aware of their order’s expected delivery date influences their choice of retailer. Keeping them informed with an honest timeline is a great way to build brand trust and manage shopper expectations. When it comes to delivery related factors, shoppers expect flexible delivery and pick up options (40 per cent) and a choice of delivery speeds (30 per cent). Offering these may prevent cart abandonment.


Factor processing time into your overall delivery speed as you create or evaluate your backend and order management processes. This is key because 42 per cent of shoppers said they were influenced to shop with retailers who process orders quickly.

Easy returns

Returns are an inevitable part of business – online and offline. 56 per cent of respondents look for simple and straightforward return policies from retailers, so ensuring you take the time to craft a strategic policy that balances shopper wants and needs with your business’ bottom line is time well spent.

Shoppers want to have a clear understanding of your return policy before they check out. Concerns over a return policy drove 63 per cent of shoppers to abandon their cart.

In addition to expecting to find a return policy to review, 44 per cent of shoppers will choose to shop with one retailer over another when flexible return options are made available and 56 per cent will abandon their cart due to a lack of flexible return options.


Consider offering in-store returns for online purchases, in addition to mailed returns, to give your customers choice.

Marketing strategies and influences

Today’s small businesses simply cannot invest all their promotional dollars in one channel. Successful marketing leverages multiple channels to connect with consumers, reaching them where it’s most convenient and impactful. That may be through engaging social media posts, paid digital ads, or a direct mail marketing campaign that lands right in the consumers’ mailbox. Canadians are looking for new retailers: 34 per cent say they are shopping from a greater number of online retailers than they did a year ago. Grab their attention and bring them to your store! Here’s how:

Digital marketing strategies

Digital marketing works! Receiving a promotional email influenced 38 per cent of shoppers in their choice of retailer. Additionally, 33 per cent say that results from a web search led them to discover an unfamiliar brand, and 18 per cent social media content. Leveraging multiple digital channels can help shoppers discover your brand and drive them to your store.

Direct mail marketing strategies

Advertising, promotions and rewards all influence where Canadians choose to shop. 22 per cent say that an advertisement or flyer they received in the mail from brands caught their attention. While this sentiment is higher amongst pre-boomers (34 per cent) and boomers (32 per cent), younger generations are also swayed by direct mail advertisements with 11 per cent of Gen Z, 13 per cent of millennials and 23 per cent of Gen X saying it’s captured their attention.

Integrated marketing strategies

An integrated marketing approach can help you reach customers both online and offline, be it in your neighborhood or across Canada. Integrated campaigns can ensure you reach the right shoppers, with the right message, delivered in the right way at the right time. Done right, integrated marketing can increase traffic to your store, both online and offline. Explore the best channels for your business and how you can integrate your marketing campaigns.

What does this mean for your small business?

The ecommerce market will undoubtedly continue to evolve. This will affect online and physical stores – as well as your marketing strategies. By staying on top of, and understanding how, shoppers respond to these ongoing changes, you can respond and make a meaningful impact on consumers throughout the customer journey – leaving a lasting impression.

Canada Post. 2021 Canada Post Canadian Online Shopping Survey, 21-211, June 2021.

Looking for more on mixing up your marketing?

Read our blog to discover the basics of direct mail, the resources available to help you start communicating with customers and the value it can add to your small business marketing.

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