Canadians will do anything online but shop
Kimberly Shearon , Canwest News Service
Published: Saturday, March 01, 2008
Canada’s free-fall into Internet dependence – using it for everything from paying hydro bills, booking Jamaican vacations and staying in touch with friends around the globe – seems to have met at least one area of resistance: buying clothes online.
During the last half-decade, retailers have capitalized on consumers via cyberspace, setting up online clothing stores that offer special promotions and move vast quantities of merchandise – particularly in the United States.
But even though Canadians are exercising their purchasing power more than ever – thanks in part to the strength of the loonie – Canada’s online shopping options are somewhat scant, especially when it comes to clothing.
The countries’ cultural differences might be the reason for the disparity in the number of online clothing outlets, said Peter Woolford, vice-president of policy development and research at the Retail Council of Canada.
“When you consider how actively Canadians use the Internet for managing their financial affairs or for booking travel there’s no question they trust the Internet as a medium through which to do commerce and to share their most important financial information,” he said.
“They just like to shop in person apparently.”
Woolford pointed out that even during the heyday of catalogue shopping, Americans were far more active in “distance shopping.”
But while online sales amount to only about two per cent of all sales in Canada, Woolford said demand seems to be growing.
“Clearly Canadians are becoming accustomed to it,” he said.
“We would fully expect to see the number of Canadians shopping online for merchandise and the portion of merchandise bought online to grow, and probably grow very rapidly.”
But that growth is hampered by clothing retailers, especially those based in the U.S., who are reluctant or unable to establish Canadian headquarters.
While American Apparel and Forever 21 are among the US-based retailers that have Canadian stores online – meaning costumers don’t have to shell out for additional import taxes or duties – other companies process orders out of the country or do not ship to Canada at all.
“I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want that extra business,” said Henna Singh, who runs the popular blog Canadian Beauty. “There are lots of consumers in Canada, but if companies won’t ship here, that’s a problem.”
Eluxury.com, a site that sells high-end cosmetics, is one example of a company that does not ship to Canada. Retail giant GAP Inc., which owns and operates all Banana Republic, GAP and Old Navy stores, is another.
Danah Abdulla, who founded Ottawa Street Style, a blog dedicated to what people are wearing in the nation’s capital, said she and most of her friends are online shopping enthusiasts.
Even though finding the right fit online can be a challenge, she cited the better promotions and variety most online stores offer as enticing reasons to shop from home.
But import fees quickly drive up prices when ordering from international retailers such as Shopbop.com, so it can be especially frustrating when companies based in Canada or that have domestic stores don’t offer online shopping.
“If people are shopping at store here and it’s successful, why wouldn’t you have online shopping in Canada? It’s a great concept,” said Abdulla.
GAP Inc. is looking into changes that will allow its system to accept international addresses, according to Tara Wickwire, a company spokesperson.
“We agree that bringing our online stores to everyone in the world is a critically important strategic objective for us,” she said.
Customer service is the company’s primary concern and it wants to ensure it can live up the brand’s identity before expanding into the international online market, she added.
Meanwhile, both Abdulla and Singh said they usually link to stores where readers can purchase items discussed in blog posts. Singh said blogs and the Internet are new points of information for the consumer world.
“When I started my blog I looked at magazines and the products in them, but I was not getting the information I wanted – whether it worked, where to get it, where to find things not everyone has,” said Singh.
And although the majority of Canadians do not shop online regularly, they are using the Internet’s resources to scout future purchases.
“Canadians are very careful, very value-oriented shoppers,” said Woolford. “Having information from a number of difference perspectives just means the customer is that much better informed and is more likely to buy the right product the first time.”
Online store, ships from Canada
Online store, ships from outside Canada (import fees or duties apply)
Stores in Canada, does not ship to Canada/no online store
RW & Co.