Online Shopping

Online shopping is big business, accounting for 10% of all retail purchases in Canada and used routinely by 84% of Canadians. There is no ignoring the convenience and competitiveness of online marketplaces and stores, so let’s take a closer look at how exactly this goliath industry works.

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What Is Online Shopping?

Online shopping is the act of looking for and buying goods or services over the internet, rather than in person or by phone. Almost anything can be bought and sold online, even services that require some on-location physical service. Even browsing online counts as online shopping - in the same way that wandering around a mall still counts as shopping, even if you don’t buy anything.

How Canadians Shop Online

The rapid rise in online shopping’s popularity means that there is a lot of data telling us how Canadians access and use e-commerce sites.

Here are some important insights into Canadian’s online shopping habits:

  • Nearly half of Canadians’ online purchases are pursued with foreign retailers.
  • Gift cards consistently rank as the most wanted gift item from online retailers.
  • Half of online shoppers want to collect their purchases at a physical store.
  • 58% of shoppers are willing to add items to their cart to save on shipping.
  • Computer-based sales account for 65.5% of sales, and mobile buying sits at 34.5% - though this percentage is expected to grow above 50% as mobile functionality increases.
Data source: CanadiansInternet 2020

Online Shopping Marketplaces

75% of Canadian online purchases are via an online marketplace. Here are the top ten marketplaces in Canada:

1. Amazon

Amazon CA accounts for 72% of all online marketplace purchases, and 53% of Amazon purchases were from a third party seller. The site receives 135.5 million visits a month. Although Amazon sells almost everything, and leads e-commerce in every department, it is particularly dominant in computers and electronics in Canada.

2. Walmart

Walmart Canada has 37.7 million visits a month and accounts for 7% of all online marketplace purchases made in Canada. Walmart is the largest retail corporation in the world and its online arm sells a wide range of goods, mimicking those available in its brick-and-mortar locations. This includes food, electronics, baby items, household goods, medical supplies, auto parts, fashion and more, though its most popular divisions are groceries, home and garden.

3. eBay

9% of online marketplace purchases happen through eBay Canada and the site receives 30.5 million visits a month. eBay is a little different from its major marketplace competitors as the company itself sells nothing; instead the site facilitates connection between buyers and sellers - of all kinds - through its online auction platform. This has proven to be an incredibly stable and popular business model, and eBay Canada has been competitive since 2000.

4. Canadian Tire

Canadian Tire has 26.3 million visits a month by people looking for automotive, sports, home, garden, and hardware products. It’s the leading seller of hardware and automotive goods in the country, and the first marketplace on our list that’s purely Canadian.

5. Best Buy

Best Buy is a go-to for electronics, appliances and computer goods, and its online store mimics the type of stock you’d expect to find at its brick-and-mortar locations. Best Buy Canada gets 21.4 million visits a month and accounts for 6% of all online marketplace purchases in Canada.

6. Home Depot

Home Depot Canada is an arm of America’s largest hardware chain, and the Canadian web store has 21 million visits a month. It sells construction materials and tools, as well as appliances, home and garden products, and construction services.

7. Costco

Costco is the largest members-only online retailer in Canada; only those with a Costco membership are able to use its online store. It receives 20.3 million visits a month, and sells wholesale groceries, electronics, appliances, furniture, jewelry, and auto parts.

8. Etsy

Etsy is similar to eBay in that the company itself does not manufacture or sell anything of its own, but instead acts as a marketplace to connect sellers with buyers. It focuses on handmade and vintage items, including art, crafts, clothes, jewelry, and home products. The Canadian Etsy site gets 13.5 million visits a month.

9. Hudson’s Bay

Hudson’s Bay sells apparel, accessories, beauty products, and home goods, and gets 5.75 million visits a month. It tends to attract those who are regular shoppers at its physical stores, and it caters to those looking for high-end products rather than a bargain.

10. Newegg

Newegg is an online-only retailer that focuses on computer software and hardware, both consumer and professional. It has 3.45 million visits a month and is known for its broad array of technological equipment and accessories.

Big Brands Online

As well as the marketplaces listed above - all of which offer a range of brands - there are some very popular brands with their own, dedicated stores that do well online. This includes:

  • Apple
  • Wayfair
  • Gap
  • Nike
  • Sephora
  • Lululemon
  • SportChek
  • Lowes

Canadians may prefer buying direct from a brand or manufacturer for a number of reasons, including access to better prices and products.

Data source: CanadiansInternet 2020

Important Shopping Holidays

Online shopping holidays are interesting because no matter where you are in the world, buying online means you can take advantage of a site’s sales - even if you don’t live in a country that celebrates the specific holiday the sale is actually for! This means that there are literally dozens of major online shopping holidays a year; these are just some of the biggest:

Black Friday

Black Friday falls on the day after American Thanksgiving, in late November. 37% of Canadians took advantage of a Black Friday sale in 2019, and worldwide over 93 million people logged on to make Black Friday purchases online. Sales happen across industries and product types, and the vast majority of North American retailers participate - as well as many others around the world.

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday is on the first Monday after American Thanksgiving, in late November, and it started by focussing specifically on computer sales - though it now covers all manner of technology and other products. $9.4 billion was spent worldwide on Cyber Monday in 2019.

Boxing Day

Holiday sales - from Thanksgiving right through December - make for the busiest season for most retailers in Canada. But post-Christmas comes a new wave of sales, and these kick off on 26th December. This started as a Commonwealth trend for brick-and-mortar stores, but has quickly become the norm for online retailers too. 34% of Canadiansd plan to shop on Boxing Day, and Boxing Day spending accounts for 30% of all holiday spending.

Amazon Prime Day

Amazon Prime Day changes its date every year, but is always advertised well in advance. This two day holiday is ostensibly only for Prime members, but in fact large swathes of Amazon’s products are heavily discounted for all its customers. 2020’s Prime Day spending topped $10.4 billion on Amazon sites worldwide.

Singles Day

Singles Day is the single biggest online shopping day in terms of sales; quite impressive given that this arbitrary shopping holiday was created by Chinese online marketplace Alibaba. Falling on November 11th, this single day saw $30.8 billion in merchandise sales in 2020 - and this number just accounts for Alibaba’s main sites, and not other retailers who have joined in on the holiday.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Shopping

Is online shopping safe?

The safety of your financial and personal data when making online purchases should be of concern, and it is not guaranteed. To protect your data always make sure you are using a reputable website, avoid those that direct you to suspicious third party payment systems, and use sensible precautions for your own devices to ensure your personal data can’t be hacked.

Is using a foreign online marketplace safe?

Most large online marketplaces are safe to use. However, if you’ve not heard of a site and would like to check its credibility, search online for past customer reviews and to see how long it has been in business. Don’t just look at reviews listed on the website itself - they’ll only ever post the good ones!

What is Black Friday?

Black Friday is a shopping holiday created by U.S. retailers to fall on the day after Thanksgiving. It kicks off the holiday sales season and is enjoyed by millions, not just in the U.S. but around the world. It boasts large discounts and is one of the single largest shopping days worldwide.

What’s the best holiday to shop online?

The best holiday to shop online depends on what items you’re looking for; a day like Black Friday is participated in by many retailers, but Cyber Monday is mainly for electronics, and Amazon Prime Day is only for purchases made from Amazon. So where you plan to shop online and what you’re buying does influence the best day to get deals, though you can’t go wrong with any of the major worldwide shopping events.

How long does shipping take when buying online?

Buying online means waiting for your purchases to come in the mail, and this can mean waiting for as little as a day, or for as long as several months. The time it takes to get your item depends on a number of factors: whether it was in stock when you made the purchase, processing time for your order, shipping method, warehouse location, recipient location, and other more unpredictable factors like postal strikes or weather issues. When you make your online purchase, be sure to read the shipping information to get an accurate idea of your wait time.

Written By Smarter Loans Staff

The Smarter Loans Staff is made up of writers, researchers, journalists, business leaders and industry experts who carefully research, analyze and produce Canada's highest quality content when it comes to money matters, on behalf of Smarter Loans. While we cannot possibly name every person involved in the process, we collectively credit them as Smarter Loans Writing Staff. Our work has been featured in the Toronto Star, National Post and many other publications. Today, Smarter Loans is recognized in Canada as the go-to destination for financial education, and was named the "GPS of Fintech Lending" by the Toronto Star.