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Canadian Retailers’ Imperative: Cross-Border eCommerce

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By Sean McCartney, executive vice president of operations services at Radial. 

Retailers are faced with exceedingly high standards as juggernauts in the eCommerce world continue to expand and excel worldwide. Connectivity, mobility, and technology advances have increased our access to more products from myriad outlets (or shopping channels) and without the ability to quickly fulfill the order and quickly get it to the customer, it can be difficult to remain competitive. A recent Radial and eTail Canada study found that Canadian retailers still struggle to “break the border” to meet international eCommerce demands. Currently, 59 percent of Canadian retailers do not ship to the United States, and 61 percent of Canadian retailers do not outsource any aspects of their businesses. 

To remain competitive, Canadian retailers must prioritize cross-border eCommerce to meet the rising standard and reach of competing eCommerce companies worldwide. For Canadian retailers who are striving for a stronger, more robust cross-border eCommerce strategy, they should consider the following pieces of insight. 


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Retailers cite numerous challenges with cross-border shipping. 

Retailers often forego cross-border opportunities for reasons such as their size limitations or because of regulations, cost, or shipping times. 16 percent of Canadian retailers also cite limited partnership capabilities as an issue. Whether because of their companies’ size limitations or because of regulations, cost, or shipping times, retailers that are not prioritizing cross-border shipping are nonetheless missing out on opportunities to tap into new and lucrative markets. 

Canadian retailers must consider outsourcing or expending their fulfillment network to break into U.S. markets.

As they continue to cater to local markets, Canadian retailers of all sizes predominantly use in-house fulfillment models. Currently, 59 percent of Canadian retailers do not ship to the United States and 61 percent of Canadian retailers do not outsource any aspects of their businesses. However, these retailers must transition toward outsourcing fulfillment options if they want to break into new international markets.  Leveraging partners who can provide multi-node, multi-tenant fulfillment enables the Canadian retailers to more efficiently fulfill orders and more cost effectively ship orders to various locations.  Leveraging higher volumes of a third-party provider helps optimize costs and enables retailers to more easily scale operations.  


Customer Service Channels are Essential to profitable expansion

Broadening customer service channels is the best means for Canadian retailers to reach international audiences. A great majority of retailers (85 percent) perform customer services in-house, with only 11 percent of retailers using both in-house customer service and outsourced models. Most retailers favor email and phone channels to provide customer care however they will encounter barriers to these channels when servicing customers internationally— whether through restrictive email regulations or long-distance phone expenses. Unlike email, and despite international limitations associated with in-house phone services, social media and chat capabilities provide customers with instant access to service representatives, no matter those customers’ locations. Facilitating these engagements allows companies to cost-effectively reach international audiences as they choose to expand. By outsourcing customer service, Canadian retailers can be enabled to overcome international limitations. 

Another way Canadian retailers should look to meet evolving customer demands internationally is to prioritize omnichannel capabilities. With limited physical presence in the U.S., Canadian retailers must fully invest in omnichannel capabilities so that customers in new markets can engage with their brands successfully. Omnichannel capabilities are in use by Canadian retailers – 29 percent offer ‘pickup in-store’ and 33 percent offer ‘ship-from store’ – however they will need to expand with ‘pickup in-store’ and ‘ship-to store’ especially. 

Cross-border eCommerce is the key to remaining competitive and profitable for Canadian retailers looking to compete with today’s retail juggernauts. To sharpen their competitive edge, Canadian retailers should consider partnering with a third-party customer service and fulfillment partner that can help them overcome challenges associated with international standards and fees. In doing so, they can ensure they provide always-on support for customers and offer omnichannel delivery capabilities to expand their footprint exponentially. By adopting these strategies and looking holistically throughout the entire customer journey – from the order placed, to the service interaction to when the package arrives –Canadian retailers can profitably succeed in the cross-border eCommerce game. 


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Sean McCartney oversees Radial’s global operations, which includes managing the company’s fulfillment centers and customer care centers around the globe. He is responsible for designing the network strategy, driving efficient labor management, effectively managing capacity utilization, expanding and differentiating Radial’s transportation offerings, and growing the company’s customer care solutions. He has over 20 years of experience in global supply chain logistics, distribution, and operations. 

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Editor-in-Chief of Retail Insider and President/CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton, and consultant to the Retail Council of Canada. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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