Inside Logistics

Canadian SMEs missing out on e-comm opportunities

New BDC study finds only 46 percent of Canadian entrepreneurs plan to sell virtually after the pandemic

November 26, 2020

MONTREAL – Although e-commerce has exploded since the Covid-19 pandemic and nearly 85 percent of consumers now buy online, only 46 percent of Canadian entrepreneurs plan to sell virtually after the health crisis.

A new BDC study addresses common e-commerce challenges and how to overcome them.

E-commerce was exploding before the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, retail sales in Canada nearly tripled between 2012 ($8.3 billon) and 2018 ($22.1 billion).

The health crisis has accelerated the staggering growth in online sales and job creation. During the first four months of the pandemic, e-commerce sales exceeded those of the 2019 holiday season.

“We know that businesses already selling online have fared better during the crisis than others. E-commerce is bringing opportunities for companies of every size and sector”, says Pierre Cléroux, vice-president, research and chief economist at BDC.

“However, very few business owners believe online sales will increase in the next three years. This means they are not seeing e-commerce opportunities, nor are they preparing for them. Online success requires a strategic approach suited to the realities of your business.”


Entrepreneurs most commonly cite the difficulty of providing a good customer experience (46 percent), developing the right skills (33 percent) and ensuring profitability (31 percent) as top e-commerce challenges.

Careful planning and online marketing are the keys to success. The study offers solutions and a roadmap for getting started or taking existing online sales to the next level. The roadmap includes the following five steps to maximize return on e-commerce investment:

  1. Understand online sales in your sector, by observing the actions of market leaders and your direct competitors to understand their positioning and best practices.
  2. Get to know your customers and their online preferences. Identify key customers and get to know them better. What do they buy online? How do they behave on the web? Go further to understand what makes them unique.
  3. Review your relationships with business partners and your business model. How will the online sales initiative affect the business relationships with various partners? Develop a business model that will be competitive on the web.
  4. Develop new skills internally. Managers and employees will have to acquire skills in transactional website management, digital marketing and delivery and logistics.
  5. Define sales objectives and optimize efforts. Prepare three-year financial projections to establish the profitability of the online sales project and set financial goals. Continuously take advantage of the data collected on customers’ habits.

The statistics presented in the study are based on a BDC survey conducted in June 2020 among 1,000 owners or decision-makers of Canadian small and medium-sized businesses, as well as data from Statistics Canada, Léger and Forrester.