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Americans Receptive to Canadian Online Retailers, if Available: Survey

By Susan Wall

It’s the best-kept secret in Canadian retail. A whopping 77% of Americans are interested in purchasing online from outside of the US. And Canada tops the list as the country American consumers would feel most comfortable shopping from. It’s time Canadian businesses capitalize on this newfound ecommerce territory. 

An estimated 39 million US adults buy from international retailers every week (yes, every week). And according to an Ipsos survey commissioned by Bronto Software, 72% of Americans open to cross-border shopping would consider buying from Canada. The survey researched American consumers who have access to buying online on how they feel about a global ecommerce experience. 

Interestingly, while China rates much lower on the comfort list for international purchasing (31%), US consumers actually buy online from there the most – and at a much higher rate than their “trusted” North American neighbours. Fifty-six percent of American online buyers have purchased from China. From Canada, only 20%. It’s an even more intriguing figure when you consider US consumers overwhelmingly say they are more comfortable with global online shopping in English-speaking countries, with the UK (68%) and Australia (52%) coming in just behind Canada. 

What entices Americans to buy from other countries like China? The two biggest motivating factors are simple, and not surprising – price and unique products. People want to own special things they can’t find at home. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed admit that the access to unique products encourages them to buy outside of the US. 

Big Al’s is a great example of a Canadian company experiencing growing success in the US for just that reason. The company exclusively sells aquatic-focused pets and pet supplies – unique because most US pet stores sell additional products for other types of pets. So, Big Al’s can market the company’s hyper-focus to a specific product and leverage its expertise and commitment to that product line. While Big Al’s has a big name in Canada, it is a virtual unknown to most Americans. So how did Big Al’s broaden its reach to the US? Content marketing. Big Al’s made itself the industry expert by sharing its knowledge of aquatic pets and products, and positioning itself as the go-to company for all aquatic needs, advice and support. The company is proactively engaging with customers online and has recently begun focusing on highly targeted customer data, such as pet’s birthdays, the number of pets in the home and purchasing behaviour. Customized messaging supports the efforts to build brand awareness in the US. 

Golda’s Kitchen is also making headway in the US through, of all things, a small kitchen accessory. When a celebrity chef introduced Americans to a special flavour shaker that was not available for purchase in the US, Golda’s stepped in and gladly met the demand. And with a foot in the door, Golda’s looked for other ways to appeal to American shoppers, now utilizing Bronto’s geo-segmented email program to make the US shopping experience even better, such as converting prices automatically to US dollars and generating special offers for US food-focused holidays.

Of course, price is a top consideration for cross-border shoppers (55%). Big Al’s is able to offer better online prices than their smaller competitors from the support of their big box super store sales. Other common reasons for buying from companies abroad? Safe online payment methods (41%), quality products (38%), gift-giving (22%), buying something different from what friends and family own (21%) and cultural reasons (11%). 

What keeps Americans from crossing the border to purchase? Shipping fees (67%), longer delivery times (43%) and hidden costs (42%). Golda’s Kitchen combats this apprehension by offering discounted shipping fees for larger purchases, which is especially appealing to its commercial customers.

So who is actually buying internationally right now in America? Fully 42% of the adult population have already done so. More men (44%) are buying globally online than women (40%), and the younger population appears more willing. More than half of adults ages 18 to 44 are more likely to purchase cross-border. The interest declines a bit to 41% for ages 45 to 54, and then lowers to around a quarter of consumers after age 55. 

America is a country of more than 325 million consumers, and they trust buying from Canada. It’s an unrealized market for Canadian merchants with an opportunity to grow their ecommerce business exponentially. American shoppers want interesting and unique products, they want assurance that the transactions are safe, and they want their orders to be delivered quickly and inexpensively. Meeting these expectations clears the hurdle, but merchants may want to sweeten the pot even more to secure a stronger relationship with American buyers. Go the extra mile by offering free shipping on returns. Publish testimonials of global consumers’ positive shopping experience to alleviate concerns. Make your presence and product known. The ball is in your court, Canada. America is waiting.

*Susan Wall is the Vice President of Marketing at Bronto Software. 



Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd.

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