Seemingly overnight, the pandemic started an online shopping evolution. As a legacy, the retail environment forever changed, and it has given Canadian entrepreneurs a whole new set of opportunities and challenges.
Something that still resonates today is that every dollar spent in Canada counts. When you’re making a purchase you’re voting with your wallet, and directing your spending towards Canadian businesses helps our collective economy grow and thrive. When you shop at your local corner store you know exactly who you are supporting, but it’s often more challenging with e-commerce.
The convenience of fast shipping and the appeal of steep discounts are causing Canadian entrepreneurs to lose out on business they used to be able to count on. Although it’s not sustainable to research every purchase that you make, it’s easy to form habits around shopping local when it counts as long as you know what to look for.
How do you know if a business is Canadian, or selling products made or assembled in Canada? This guide will help you make purchases you can feel good about in approachable everyday ways.
How to spot a Canadian business
The most impactful thing you can do to make a commitment to shop local is to learn how to spot a Canadian business or product.
Three phrases to look for on goods are:
Made in Canada
Product of Canada
Assembled in Canada
How “Canadian” is a product, exactly?
“Made in Canada” products must be made of a minimum 51 per cent Canadian material or content, while “Product of Canada” is the gold standard, with the product needing to be 98 per cent Canadian to get the certification. More than just what the product is made of, the direct costs of producing or manufacturing the goods must have been incurred in Canada to earn the designation.
In 2008 the “Made in Canada” vs. “Product of Canada” distinction was created to help aid consumers and highlight businesses that are achieving that 98 per cent threshold.
To protect consumers from misinformation, these standards are enforced by an independent law enforcement agency called the Competition Bureau. The Bureau helps protect and promote Canadian products and informs consumer choice in an ever-changing landscape of global goods and product marketing.
Shopping Canadian online
When shopping online, the first thing to look for is the domain name. The .CA domain name means the business is 100 per cent Canadian, because in order to register a .CA domain, individuals, businesses or organizations must meet CIRA’s Canadian Presence Requirements.
Research shows that Canadians tend to prefer shopping from .CA websites too, because it means they are likely to get more affordable goods, faster shipping times and the added benefit of supporting their community. In fact, Canadians are 4x more likely to prefer .CA than .com websites for shopping when they have a choice (research conducted in 2020 by the Strategic Counsel).
There are other advantages to buying from .CA websites too. Shopping in Canadian currency means getting the best possible price from the retailer and consumers won’t risk being surprised by a currency exchange. Many Canadian and U.S. websites offer the same prices in Canadian and U.S. dollars, yet if a Canadian purchases the goods on a U.S. site, they will be paying the additional conversion costs after the fact. It turns out these compelling reasons really add up and 65 per cent of Canadian internet users agree that Canadian businesses and organizations should use a .CA domain.
Using a .CA domain means Canadian businesses see a lift in search traffic as well. For searches in Canada about Canadian topics, search engines like Google tend to favour local results which can lead to increased website traffic and leads.
Why buying Canadian counts
Small independent businesses rely on their local community to survive, and many were hit especially hard by pandemic restrictions designed to keep everyone safe.
Many small businesses are more financially fragile than larger corporations and they weren’t designed to sustain many months of reduced revenues. This led to as many as 7 to 21 per cent of all businesses in Canada closing permanently as a result of this crisis according to estimates provided by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB).
According to a news release also published by CFIB, Canada’s small businesses now collectively owe over $135 billion as a result of the pandemic. “Small businesses need our support through this challenging time,” says Taylor Matchett, a research analyst at CFIB. “We must also keep in mind that businesses are much more fragile now than at the beginning of the pandemic, and every effort should be made to keep businesses open while managing the health implications of the virus.”
The case for shopping small extends far beyond times of crisis and is something that can be integrated into everyday life.
In one of the most impactful campaigns during the pandemic, the Toronto community of Roncesvalles assembled to drape all the windows on a popular shopping street with for lease signs. This unsettling preview of what post-pandemic life could look like reinvigorated the community to shop local and raised awareness about the fragility of these important businesses.
It has also inspired many resilient businesses to find new ways to engage their local community with e-commerce, local pickup and delivery. Many Canadians have felt more connected to their neighbourhood entrepreneurs than ever before. This invigorating support for small businesses could benefit everyone in Canada in the long run if this surge in local loyalty continues.
Practical everyday ways to buy Canadian
With rents and business costs on the rise it’s a reality that more and more brick and mortar businesses may be lost. How does this hurt local residents?
More than just the financials, businesses are an important part of the social fabric of our streets and neighbourhoods. They are also an important source of job creation. These independent businesses help keep money earned in the community get reinvested locally so that everyone benefits from their success.
Local businesses are also important for the environment and sustainability. The more local goods can stay local, the less they have to travel. Keeping the environmental footprint on product creation as small as possible benefits all Canadians.
That begs the question, what lures people away from shopping locally? The promise of one-day delivery and steep discounts are often the culprit.
Shopping locally is also an investment of time. For niche items, it’s as simple as a search on Amazon to find that must-have item, but for the local shopper it could require a good amount of research to get that same end result.
Because of this it’s difficult for consumers to shop locally in every case, even with the moral obligation in play.
How do you know when buying local really counts? Are there certain items that you should absolutely look for locally first?
Industries and goods to think of when shopping local
There are some easy answers for when to double down on shopping locally. To begin flexing a new shopping habit, these categories of goods and services are a great place to start. In these industries, the money typically stays primarily in Canada and helps the business owner continue local operations. These businesses are also typically the most vulnerable to international competition or have the largest corporate competitors.
Many apparel companies either locally make their clothing, or source from Canadian suppliers where possible. In the apparel industry international competition is intense, so supporting your favourite local boutiques is an important way to help them stay open. Local Laundry is a great example of Canadian-made clothing that supports the local economy.
Home and lifestyle goods
Locally made home and lifestyle businesses tend to carry a lot of Made in Canada products that have the greatest impact as far as local purchases are concerned. When you shop for these goods locally, a diverse group of artisans and crafters also benefit, keeping the cultural fabric in a community vibrant. Salt Shop, based in British Columbia, sells Canadian made and designed home accessories and art, inspired by the ocean.
Food, beverage and grocery
The more local the food, the closer your money stays to home. The food industry has a high environmental footprint when it comes to importing and exporting goods that expire quickly.
For your next shopping trip, consider visiting an independent grocer, farmers market or butcher instead of making a one-stop shop at a major grocery chain.
The goods at local shops are often high quality and locally made or sourced which can have a big impact on the community supply chain.
Pets and plants
Pet goods and plants are great examples of independent businesses that are often overlooked on the quest to buy local. Think about stocking up at these stores in batches as a part of a regular routine. Farms and local nurseries can also benefit from these purchases as a positive ripple effect. Woof Packs offers a subscription box of toys, natural treats and tasty chews for furry friends.
When looking at services like grooming, automotive and paramedical, think of independent businesses first. Chains are well known corporations that usually offer compelling prices and trusted service, but they are often internationally owned. Another good way to investigate this is to search locally for services and look for a .CA domain. It’s an easy way to tell if OttawaDogWalkers.ca is from Ottawa, Ontario, or Ottawa, Iowa.
Curbside pickup and local delivery
Delivery times are a large motivator for sales and conversions. The latest e-commerce wave has changed perceptions around shipping times and trained consumers to expect almost instant gratification when they order online.
For those instant shoppers, choosing curbside pickup or local one-day delivery is a way to expedite the purchase process while still supporting local.
Curbside pickup isn’t just for apparel, it’s for food and beverage too. The next time you think about ordering from your favourite local restaurant, visit their website to see if they offer direct pickup through e-commerce or by phone. Instead of using ordering apps like Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes, or DoorDash, get in the habit of buying from the restaurant directly. This will help the owners keep their doors open because they won’t have to pay a hefty portion of their revenues to food-delivery services.
Repeat business and self-care products
When you’ve been a long time customer of a store, you often know just what you want. To save yourself time and decrease shipping costs and overhead for business owners, place an order and select local pickup or delivery. Think of things like self-care products, frequently purchased clothing items like socks or shirts and anything else you don’t need to try on.
Do you have a favourite Canadian brand of beauty or self-care products? Tell your friends, tag them on social, and use the hashtag #MyFavCA and we’ll help promote them.
Local breweries really embraced the online ordering opportunity during the pandemic. This has allowed many to stay open that would have otherwise been at risk of closing, like Brothers Brewing Company.
“Being a brewery that used to exclusively sell products through our front door, via pints and bottles-to-go, the pandemic completely changed our sales and distribution channels from in-person to 100 per cent online,” said Colton Proveau, owner.
“When the lockdown started in March, we realized quickly we needed to drastically revamp our website from a simple splash page to a customer-centric interface that we attended to numerous times throughout the day. Although this was a scary and drastic change, it has certainly developed new opportunities to reach new customers, create new products, and create a presence outside of our physical location that is accessible anywhere in the world,” says Proveau.
“I think that it is important for local businesses to remain locally driven. Small business truly is the growth engine of our economy, and I feel it is important for Canadian companies to make their Canadianess known. When I shop online, I'm more comfortable making an order from a .CA site and I think our customers are too. A .CA domain gives me confidence that I will receive my order, that I won't see any unexpected duties and border charges and if the product is coming across a border, that the Canadian site will be able to solve any issues.”
Are you a Canadian-run business? Positioning yourself as a Canadian business is key to attracting loyal customers that will keep coming back. Learn more in our “How to market your local business as Canadian” blog.