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The big picture

Conducted during the early weeks of Canada’s lockdown measures put in place to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19’s spread, CIRA’s Internet Factbook 2020 survey is more than just an update on our collective online behaviour – it’s a small looking glass that reflects how life has changed. And it looks like life involves a lot more use of the internet – for everything from working remotely, to staying connected to loved ones, to binge-streaming Netflix, and cursing at our voice-activated assistants. The internet has become an integral component of each Canadian’s average day while sheltering in place.

More Canadians may be starting their day by turning off the alarm on their voice-activated assistant. More than one-quarter of Canadians now own such a device, an increase from 19 per cent in 2019. When the alarm is finally quieted, Canadians may ask their voice-activated assistant to listen to the radio, some music, or a podcast, as 13 per cent of Canadians say they use the devices for this purpose most often. 

As 9 A.M. rolls around, 54 per cent of Canadians say they are working at home specifically because of COVID-19. Despite not necessarily choosing to do so, many of us are seeing the benefits of working remotely. More than three-quarters say that spending less time commuting is the top benefit, but two-thirds say they are saving time in general. Fifty-four per cent of Canadians feel they’ve achieved a better work-life balance and half are enjoying better flexibility with doing chores and errands. 

When the lunch hour hits, Canadians are much more likely to be ordering food online. More than half of Canadians now say they have ordered food online, a near doubling from the 27 per cent that did so in 2019. Canadians are most likely to be ordering food from a restaurant’s website or app, with 53 per cent of online-food-buyers saying they did so. Thirty-seven per cent say they used a food delivery service like Uber Eats or Skip the Dishes.

As the afternoon unfolds, many Canadians might receive calls to their mobile phones, but only 45 per cent bother to answer at least “some of the time.” Likely, they are being worn out by the spam calls they get, with seven in ten receiving at least one per week. They are much more likely to log in to Facebook, the dominant social media platform in Canada, with seven out of ten using it. It’s also the favourite of one in three Canadians, even though Canadians also rank it as the most toxic (41 per cent) and the most addictive (38 per cent). 

In the evening, Netflix awaits. It remains the most popular subscriber-based online content provider in Canada, with 53 per cent using it. Two in three Canadians will watch at least one hour per day of TV or movies online, and one in four Canadians say they spend three to four hours doing so. Some of us might be binging Schitt’s Creek, as 61 per cent say they at least occasionally seek out Canadian content.

Before bed, it might be time to finally take a break from the internet, as one in five Canadians say they do daily. However, others might be setting up for yet another Zoom call, as 29 per cent of us never make that attempt to disconnect. Canadians of this ilk point to the need to stay connected with family (41 per cent) or friends (36 per cent) as the main reason for staying wired.

As we drift off to sleep, perhaps one more conversation with our voice-activated assistant is in order. One-quarter of us admit to having a full-fledged conversation with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. We’ll most likely be polite as we chat, with three-quarters of Canadians saying they have said “please” and “thank you” to their voice-activated assistant. 

Introduction

Since spring break, Canadians from coast to coast to coast have been doing their part to keep themselves, their friends and family safe. In an effort to “flatten the curve” and stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 through our population, governments following the advice of public health officials have put in place severe restrictions on people’s movements throughout our local streets and parks. 

Sheltering in place has gone on for months, and people are getting used to the idea of some sort of “new normal” even as lockdown restrictions ease in some places, and we await a vaccine. Coronavirus impacts every aspect of Canadian life, from the economy to social and family life. There’s only one thing keeping Canadians working alongside colleagues and interacting with friends and family – the internet. 

CIRA’s Internet Factbook 2020 provides a lens through which we can see how the early weeks of the pandemic have either shifted behaviours towards the digital sphere, or haven't done so despite the unique circumstances we’re in. This survey of 2,000 adult Canadian internet users was conducted in March 2020 and provides an excellent opportunity to better understand the implications of the pandemic on the way Canadians access the internet and behave online.

Forced remote work due to COVID-19

This survey was conducted during the most severe lockdown restrictions, with all but essential businesses required by the government to close their offices and facilities. Many businesses either enabled remote work for their employees or simply paused operations. It was a new experience for many Canadians.

Prior to COVID-19, 58 per cent of Canadians say that no one in their household worked remotely. Remote working was the least common in Maritimes households, with 66 per cent of Nova Scotians, 64 per cent of PEI residents, and 62 per cent of New Brunswickers reporting that no one in their household worked remotely prior to COVID-19. The pandemic changed things. Now, 54 per cent of Canadians say they are working from home specifically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among those doing so, seven in ten say they worked remotely for at least some of the time prior to the pandemic. 

In working remotely, some are recognizing a silver lining in a dire scenario. The top benefits of working from home for Canadians include:

  • 77% say they spend less time commuting
  • 66% say they are saving time in general
  • 54% say they have a better work-life balance
  • 53% say they are saving money
  • 50% note greater flexibility with chores and errands

54% working from home due to COVID-19

The benefits people experience differ depending on which province Canadians live in. For example, in Alberta, only 45 per cent mentioned less time spent commuting as a benefit, with 68 per cent finding more time savings in general. In Quebec and Ontario, more than eight in ten survey respondents said they spent less time commuting. 

In other ways, Canadians are less likely to find benefits associated with remote work. Only 18 per cent said they found greater flexibility with childcare as governments required almost all childcare businesses to temporarily close during lockdown measures. And only 22 per cent said they had greater flexibility with housing choices.

Canadians see the value in the option to work from home, and the experience will likely have long-term effects as workplaces reopen from the pandemic. About one-third of Canadians say they’d be unwilling to work for an organization that doesn’t allow employees to work remotely. Those living in PEI and Saskatchewan are the most willing to work for an organization that doesn’t allow remote work, at 51 per cent and 39 per cent respectively. 

Not only are Canadians working from home, but they are also conducting more of their personal business online. When asked which services they are more likely to interact with online, Canadians ranked their bank first (69 per cent), government services second (46 per cent), their own workplace third (41 per cent) and their insurance company and utility companies tied in fourth with 37 per cent. 

Streaming & piracy

With a nation sheltering at home and no live hockey games on TV, “Netflix and chill” may seem like one of the only options left for entertainment. Yet during the first weeks of the pandemic’s most severe period in Canada, residents weren’t watching more TV or movies online than in previous years. Despite the entry of many more streaming services over the past year, Netflix remains the dominant option for Canadians. The extra time at home on the couch hasn’t pushed more Canadians towards piracy either. Even those who do pirate content say they are willing to pay for reasonably priced content online.

Two-thirds of Canadians say they spend at least one hour per day watching TV or movies online. Another one-quarter of Canadians say they spend three to four hours per day doing the same. 

Those who live in New Brunswick are most likely to spend their time watching at least some movies or TV online, with only 8 per cent saying they spend no time doing so. On the other end of the spectrum are Saskatchewan residents, 23 per cent of whom say they spend no time watching movies or TV online.

When watching video online, most Canadians seek out Canadian content some of the time, with 61 per cent saying they at least occasionally do so. One in seven often or always do, while 11 per cent never do. Quebec residents are the most likely to seek Canadian content, with three in ten saying they often or always do. Saskatchewan residents are least likely to seek it out – with one in five saying so. 

Three in ten Canadians say they are using the apps of individual TV networks to steam TV or movie content.

Canadians are also enjoying streaming music or radio content online, with four in ten saying they spend one hour or more per day listening to music, and another 31% saying they spend between one minute and one hour per day listening.

Netflix remains the most popular subscriber-based content provider amongst Canadians, on par with last year's 53 per cent of respondents saying they are subscribers. Amazon Prime Video follows in second with 24 per cent subscribing, then Spotify in third with 16 per cent subscribing, and Crave TV in fourth with 13 per cent. 

One-third of Canadians say they are not subscribing to any online content provider. Different online streaming services are popular in different provinces. PEI residents are most likely to subscribe to Netflix, with 68 per cent saying so. New Brunswickers are the most likely out of all Canadians to subscribe to Crave TV, at 21 per cent. Albertans are most likely out of all Canadians to subscribe to both Spotify (19 per cent) or Apple Music (10 per cent).

About one in ten Canadians admits to intentionally pirating movies or TV content online, with those 18-34 most likely to say they have at 24 per cent. Men are also twice as likely as women to admit to piracy, with 15 per cent doing so, compared to 7 per cent of women. Overall, Canadians admitting to piracy is on a slight downward trend over the past three years, falling from 14 per cent admitting to it in 2018.

Among those that do pirate, 31 per cent say they do so because they don’t want to pay for content. Nearly a quarter of respondents say they pirate content because it’s not available without a cable subscription. Seven in ten Canadians say they are either somewhat willing or completely willing to pay for reasonably priced, readily available copyright-protected movies or TV content.

When it comes to accessing news online, 54 per cent of Canadians say they do so by visiting specific news and media websites, down from 61 per cent last year. Forty-one percent said it was the most common way to access news in 2019, but only 34 per cent said the same in 2020. Only 18 per cent of Canadians say they usually access news through a digital newspaper subscription.

Nova Scotians are the Canadians most likely to access news online by visiting a website, with 68 per cent saying they do so. BC residents are the most likely to use Google search, with 55 per cent saying they do so. Newfoundlanders and Manitobans are the most likely to say they access online news via Facebook, with 57 per cent and 50 per cent saying so respectively. 

Almost half say they do Google searches about news events, and 36 per cent say they access news via Facebook.

Internet at home

With both work and social life now relying on a good internet connection, many Canadians have been making more use of unlimited data plans. Survey respondents say they are satisfied with their broadband performance, and they consider those connections critical. Many say they would be unlikely to consider buying a home in an area that didn’t have access to broadband. Many Canadians do live in rural areas where internet connections are inferior to those enjoyed in urban areas. Data from CIRA’s Internet Performance Test shows that inequities remain in internet quality across the country. 

Almost nine in ten Canadians have broadband internet at home, which has remained relatively stable since 2014. They also remain consistently satisfied with that connection, with 81 per cent saying they are either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied. The big trend in Canadians’ home internet is to subscribe to an unlimited data plan, with 45 per cent of Canadians saying they do so. That’s up from 41 per cent in 2019, and up from 29 per cent in 2016. Residents of PEI and New Brunswick are the most likely to subscribe to unlimited data, with both at 56 per cent of respondents. BC and Alberta residents are the least likely to have unlimited data, with both at just 32 per cent. 

As more Canadians subscribe to residential internet packages with unlimited data, their level of satisfaction with the amount of data included in their home internet packages plateaued in 2020. About eight in ten Canadians are satisfied with the amount of data in their package, close to the same number as in 2019. The number of those satisfied has been on a slight increase since 2017, when it was 77 per cent. Only four per cent of Canadians say they are dissatisfied with the amount of data available to them. 

Canadians see access to high-speed internet at home as important, with 51 per cent saying it is critically important and 41 per cent saying it’s somewhat important. When asked how important it is that home internet access be high quality, 56 per cent said it is critically important, and another 39 per cent said it is somewhat important. 

Canadians value broadband internet so highly that 71 per cent say it would be unlikely that they’d consider buying a home in an area that lacks access to high-speed internet. Newfoundlanders felt strongest in this regard, with 62 per cent saying it would be very unlikely that they’d consider buying a home in an area that lacked high-speed internet, compared to the national average of 53 per cent.

Internet speed and quality

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have been urged to stay at home. However, depending on where in the country they live, Canadians have had very different experiences with the internet as they tried to adapt their usual routines into new digital forms. While it is apparent that internet performance has improved across the country, there is still work to be done in order to meet the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) target of all households having access to at least 50 Mbps for downloads and 10 Mbps for uploads. The gap is most noticeable in rural areas, and recent data from CIRA’s Internet Performance Test provides the proof. CIRA operates one of the most advanced tests of internet speeds available using test nodes located in internet exchange points, not the architecture owned by large internet service providers. This architecture allows the test to better simulate true internet performance. It’s a comprehensive diagnostic that not only tests download and upload speeds, but also inspects your internet connection for support of modern capabilities, including DNS security extensions and IPv6, and hundreds more data points. It’s that data that decision-makers need to continue improving Canada’s internet from coast to coast.

 

Average speeds in Canada

This year’s Internet Performance Test data shows a 46 per cent increase in the median average Canadian download speed, from 15.42 Mbps in 2019 to 22.58 Mbps in 2020.

Ontario users have received the fastest speeds, with a median average speed of 51.95 Mbps. Meanwhile, residents in the province of Newfoundland have access to the slowest speeds on average, at 5.64 Mbps download.

Fast upload speeds are critical for video conferencing, cloud storage, and other popular productivity applications used by Canadians working and learning from home. In 2020 the median average download speed was 8.16 Mbps, up from 5.79 Mbps in 2019.

Canadians living in Ontario, British Columbia and New Brunswick received the fastest upload speeds in the country.

 

Median download speeds
Year Median
2019 15.42 Mbps
2020 22.58 Mbps

 

Median upload speeds
Year Median
2019 5.79 Mbps
2020 8.16 Mbps

Latency

Latency represents the total time it takes for a single bit of data to travel to and from the user’s computer to CIRA’s testing server. Latency is often measured in only one direction; however, CIRA’s test uses bidirectional measurements, sometimes referred to as round trip time.

Latency (otherwise known as “ping”) is often used by heavy internet users like online gamers to establish which server they want to connect to for the best performance. This only partially measures their experience as studies have shown that gameplay is tolerable at 150ms latency (the Canadian average is about 104.72ms) and that packet loss and jitter are more likely to affect a gamer’s play experience when above 0.25 per cent. 

 

Jitter

Jitter (or “variability”) reflects the fluctuations in latency, and ideally, this measurement is made between successive data packets. CIRA’s tests use a higher view of jitter that examines the difference between the maximum and minimum latency values in a session.

 

Packet loss

Packet loss is the number of transmitted packets that fail to arrive at the intended destination. CIRA presents packet loss as the percentage of total packets sent.

 

Quality metrics per province

Latency, jitter, and packet loss all affect Canadians' ability to video conference, which has become very important as Canadians try to stay connected to their work, education, friends and family. You can see how provinces compare below:

 

Jitter, latency, and packet loss, broken down by province
  Latency (max. 50ms) Packet loss (max. 0.25%) Jitter (max. 5ms)
Alberta 30.67 0.11 3.59
British Columbia 14.52 0.46 2.38
Manitoba 58.75 0.19 3.02
New Brunswick 55.78 0.08 1.84
Newfoundland 64.46 0.26 6.09
Nova Scotia 49.57 0.23 4.55
Nunavut / Northwest Territories 94.2 0.33 8.61
Ontario 19.5 0.1 2.43
Prince Edward Island 49.57 0.07 4.76
Quebec 16.99 0.24 2.75
Saskatchewan 63.82 0.13 3.22
Yukon  63.78 0.92 2.46

 

Rural vs. urban internet performance

It’s no secret that there are large disparities between the speeds experienced by urban and rural Canadian internet users. To help policy-makers, journalists, and other interested members of the public understand the scale of this digital divide, we have separated our internet performance data using the Statistics Canada definition of metro versus non-metro.

As you can see below, users who live in urban areas enjoy a much faster and higher quality internet experience than those who live in rural areas, on average.

 

Urban (2020)

  • Download: 34.13 Mbps
  • Upload: 10.25 Mbps
  • Jitter: 25.99 ms
  • Latency: 11 ms
  • Packet loss: 2.20%

Rural (2020)

  • Download: 6.05 Mbps
  • Upload: 1.19 Mbps
  • Jitter: 31.95 ms
  • Latency: 29 ms
  • Packet loss: 5.50%

About the testing methodology

This year CIRA updated its methodology for analyzing Internet Performance Test data. While previous years relied on average values, we have opted to use the median average as our key performance indicator for Canada’s internet. As leading researchers on internet measurement have pointed out, “average rates in universal access gap analysis can be misleading because it will overestimate basic service quality level due to the presence of a small number of very high-speed connections in the sample.” Instead, the median average offers a more realistic estimate of the quality that is available to users. In light of this decision, we have reanalyzed 2019’s data to permit a meaningful year-on-year comparison.

The CIRA Internet Performance Test uses test nodes located in data centres that have Canadian Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in them. This is a form of “off-net” test that is neutral and unbiased. "On-net" tests measure the speed and quality from your computer to a testing server located in your ISP's backbone. While this is an important and legitimate measure of what you are paying for, in our opinion, the “off-net” test provides a result more closely aligned with your real-world internet experience. 

Source: Internet Performance Test data April 1, 2018 - March 31, 2019 (2019) and April 1, 2019 – March 31, 2020 (2020).

Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in Canada

CIRA supports the continued development of Internet Exchange Points across Canada. At present, the vast majority of internet traffic that originates from Canada travels south across the US border, even when the destination is also within Canada. Not only is this routing method inefficient, but it opens up the potential for Canadian data to come under the jurisdiction of US laws. The ten IXPs that are currently operating in Canada can help their members, including ISPs, content providers, and businesses, to exchange data directly. This improves Canada’s internet infrastructure with better speed and resiliency, strengthening its independence. You can learn more about how to contact your local IXP and begin peering here.

Contact your local IXP to find out how to get connected.

Living in smart homes

Canadians may be choosing unlimited data plans more often because they are adding more connected devices to their homes. In addition to the laptops, tablets, and smartphones that Canadians are accustomed to connecting with, new smart voice assistants such as Google Home or Amazon Alexa are seeing increased usage. 

Canadians are most likely to connect to the internet using a desktop or laptop computer, with 85 per cent saying they do so. The next most-common device is a smartphone or mobile device at 72 per cent, then a tablet such as an iPad at 43 per cent. Using a voice assistant to access the internet is up significantly since 2017, when it was just two percent of Canadians doing so.

When asked what device they use to access the internet most often, 51 per cent say they use a desktop or laptop computer. Thirty-four percent of Canadians use a smartphone or mobile device most often, but their age heavily influences their preference for this device. Fifty-four percent of Canadians ages 18-34 say they use a smartphone or mobile device most often, whereas 38 per cent of Canadians 35-54, and only 17 per cent of Canadians 55 or older say the same. 

When Canadians use a voice-controlled assistant, the most popular thing to do with it is to listen to music, the radio, or podcasts, with 13 per cent of Canadians saying so. Other popular uses of voice-controlled assistants include news and current events (7 per cent), checking email (5 per cent), and social media (3 per cent). 

Forty-one percent of Canadians say they have a Bluetooth speaker in their home, making it the most popular smart home device. Although only 13 per cent of Canadians selected voice-controlled assistants as a way they are accessing the internet, it appears ownership of the devices is much higher than that. They rank second with 26% owning at least one. That’s an increase from 19 per cent owning a voice-controlled assistant in 2019. Other popular smart home devices include: 

  • Smart thermostats (17%)
  • Home security system (15%)
  • Smart plugs (12%)
     

Canadians in some provinces are more likely to own a voice-controlled assistant than others. Newfoundlanders are the most likely to have one, with 38 per cent saying they have one and 36 per cent of PEI residents saying the same. Meanwhile, only 20 per cent of Saskatchewanians own one. Albertans are the most likely to own a smart home security system, with 27 per cent saying they own one versus the national average of 15 per cent.  

For those talking to their voice-activated assistant, many are going beyond the minimal command-issuing interaction with it. One quarter say they’ve engaged in a full conversation with their device. Almost three-quarters of Canadians say they are polite when engaging their assistant, and have said “please” or “thank you” to it. On the other hand, one-third of Canadians admit they have sworn at their assistant.

1/3 of Canadians have sworn at their voice-activated assistant

7 in 10 Canadians have said please and thank you to their voice-activated assistant

How Canadians behave online

During our time spent online, Canadians are doing the traditionally popular activities of using email, social media, or reading news. But in light of the pandemic, fewer spend time doing travel research, as is to be expected when all non-essential flights are cancelled. Also, fewer Canadians are spending time on product research. 

Canadians spend a lot of time online. More than three-quarters of the population indicated that they spend at least 3-4 hours online every day, and 15 per cent are spending more than eight hours online per day.

Only 3%

spend less than 1 hour online per day.

33%

of Canadians spend 3-4 hours online.

15%

spend more than 8 hours online per day.

In 2019, 45 per cent said they were doing travel research compared to just 32 per cent in 2020. Canadians are also less likely to spend time looking at dining options or restaurant reviews online, with only 21 per cent doing so this year compared to 33 per cent doing so in 2019. Other activities that have slightly declined include job hunting (10 per cent) and house or apartment hunting (9 per cent), with those activities conducted by 13 per cent and 12 per cent of Canadians in 2019, respectively. 

How Canadians spend time online depends on which device they’re using to connect. When using a desktop or a laptop, 44 per cent catch up on email, 20 per cent conduct banking, and 19 per cent read news and current events. When using a tablet, Canadians are most likely to clean out their inbox (28 per cent naming email), 23 per cent read news and current events, and 22 per cent use social media. When using a mobile device like a smartphone, 42 per cent say they use social media, 42 per cent also say they spend time on email, and 31 per cent are instant messaging.

Managing screen time

Staying at home is likely to lead to more screen time. Canadians are finding it a challenge to limit screen time for themselves and for their children. Most Canadian are enforcing some type of screen time limitations for their kids, but using various strategies. 

For Canadians that have children under 18 at home, 58 per cent say they enforce screen time rules. Those rules are most commonly unwritten, with 51 per cent using this approach. Other popular methods include 39 per cent using weekday limits and 33 per cent using schedules. 

58% enforce screen time rules for children under 18.

In terms of managing their own screen time, 24 per cent of Canadians say they haven’t gone more than eight hours without being online in the past 12 months. In 2019, only 19 per cent of Canadians said the same. Only 13 per cent of Canadians have managed to go a full week or more without being online. Across the country, Albertans look to be in the greatest need of a break, with 32 per cent saying they hadn’t gone more than eight hours without being online. In Manitoba, 29 per cent said the same. 

Some Canadians take an intentional break from online activity every day, with 21 per cent saying they do so. But 29 per cent say they never take a break. Quebeckers specifically aren’t trying to take a break, with 40 per cent saying so. 

The internet is so important to 18 per cent of Canadians that they are not even willing to take a vacation in a place that has no internet access. Two-thirds of Canadians say they are at least somewhat willing to take a vacation in a place with no internet. New Brunswickers are especially keen on the prospect, with 80 per cent willing to do so.

 

New Brunswickers are most likely to be willing to vacation without internet access (80%)

When those who rarely or never unplug from the internet are asked to share the reasons keeping them online, 41 per cent said connecting with family, and 36 per cent said to stay connected with friends. Another 32 per cent said it’s easier to stay connected in general, and 21 per cent said it’s easier to stay connected at work. Eleven per cent of Canadians say they’re addicted to the internet, and seven per cent say they feel anxious when not connected.

11% of Canadians say they're addicted to the internet

7% of Canadians say they feel anxious when not connected

As a counterpoint, Canadians who sometimes or often unplug from the internet say they do so to relax (49 per cent), or to avoid wasting time (44 per cent), to recharge (32 per cent), or to focus on relationships face-to-face (32 per cent).

E-commerce trends in Canada 

With many stores closed, e-commerce is the main avenue for Canadians to shop right now. From household goods and apparel to groceries, shopping online seemed like the best option for many weeks during the lockdown period across the country.

Surprisingly, Canadians were not turning to e-commerce more often than in previous years. At least not during the first couple of weeks of the lockdown, when this survey was conducted. When asked if they’ve made an online purchase in the past 12 months, 85 per cent responded yes, down slightly from 87 per cent in 2019.

But food is a different story. A little more than half of Canadians have ordered food online in 2020, a big jump from just 27 per cent in 2019. When Canadians were buying food online, they were most likely to order it directly from a restaurant’s website or app, with 53 per cent saying they did so. Thirty-seven percent of Canadians ordered through a food delivery service like Uber Eats or Skip the Dishes. Those preferences of people ordering food online are different than in 2019 when 59 per cent ordered directly and 48 per cent ordered from a delivery service.

Among those ordering food online, ordering groceries online was up slightly in 2020. One in five Canadians ordered groceries online from a non-traditional grocery store like Amazon to have them delivered. One in five Canadians also ordered groceries online from a traditional grocery store like Loblaws or Metro, then picked them up in-store. In 2019, 19 per cent ordered from a non-traditional store, and 15 per cent ordered from a traditional store.

In general, online purchases were most likely to be made by Canadians using a desktop or laptop, with 73 per cent saying they do so. The number of Canadians making purchases with a mobile phone has been climbing in recent years, but in 2020 looks to have levelled off at 40 per cent, the same as in 2019. Manitobans are the most likely to say they made an online purchase with a mobile device (59 per cent) and Saskatchewanians are a close second (58 per cent). About one in four Canadians made an online purchase using a tablet in 2020.

A sense of trust is required for online shoppers to make the leap to a transaction. Canadians are most comfortable shopping from Canadian retailers that have a website. They also say that their experiences with Canadian retailers are just as good as those with U.S. or international retailers. 

Research and bargain hunting

Half of Canadians will either always or often conduct online research before going to a store, visiting websites to research or compare products before purchasing from a bricks and mortar store. Fewer do the reverse, with only 17 per cent saying they always or often visit a store to browse but then make their purchase online – sometimes referred to as “showrooming.” People in some provinces are more likely than others to do showrooming. In BC, 21 per cent say they’ll do it. In Saskatchewan, only 10 per cent do so. 

Canadians are split about whether they visit a store to browse, but then prefer to make purchases online to get the best deal, with 30% agreeing, and 38% disagreeing. Most agree, though, that they would almost always compare prices online before making a major purchase, with 77 per cent agreeing.

Canadians are less likely to say they prefer online shopping to shopping in stores than in previous years. In 2020, 30% agree they prefer shopping online, down from 38 per cent in 2019 and 39 per cent in 2018. PEI residents are the most likely to prefer online shopping, with 43 per cent agreeing that they do. 

Buying Canadian on the global internet

Canadians like to give a home advantage when shopping online. Two-thirds of Canadians prefer making online purchases from Canadian retailers when they have a choice. PEI residents are most likely to prefer Canadian retailers online, with 83 per cent saying so. Canadians prefer to buy from their fellow citizens for a host of reasons:

  • Almost half say because it benefits the Canadian economy, continuing an upward trend. In 2019, 43 per cent named this reason, and in 2018 it was just 32 per cent. 
  • One in six say it’s because of the Canadian dollar and its exchange rate, down from 19 per cent in 2019.
  • Thirteen percent say it’s due to tax & duty fees or to avoid customs fees.

Fifty-six per cent of Canadians say they have purposefully made an online purchase from a Canadian retailer instead of a U.S. or international retailer in the past 12 months. Again, PEI residents were most likely to say they had at 68 per cent.

Canadians are most likely to say their satisfaction with Canadian retailers is about the same as with a U.S. or international retailer (57 per cent), and 30 per cent say they have better satisfaction. 

Canadians prefer that businesses they patronize have a website rather than not. More than six in ten Canadians agree they are more likely to do business with a company that has a website and 62 per cent say they generally have a better impression of a business that has a website. One-third of Canadians go so far as to say they don’t trust a business or organization that doesn’t have a website. Nova Scotians are the least likely to trust a firm without a website, with 36 per cent saying so.

6 in 10 are more likely to do business with companies who have a website.

Three-quarters of Canadians are familiar with digital wallet services. Three in ten Canadians say they’ve used a digital wallet service, stable with results from 2018 and 2019. Out of those who know what a digital wallet is, but haven’t used it, four in ten say they’d know how to use one. 

Trust in digital wallets has declined slightly year over year. Forty-six percent of Canadians say they trust the security of the transaction when using a mobile wallet, down from 49 per cent in 2019 and 51 per cent in 2018. Thirty-seven percent of Canadians trust in their ability to contact someone if an issue occurs, and 36 per cent trust in their ability to recover funds if a mistake occurs, both factors are down a couple of percentage points from 2019. 

Relationship with social media and mobile devices

Many Canadians may be unwilling to unplug from the internet and are now dependent on it more than ever during the pandemic. Yet the relationship Canadians have with the internet, and their connected devices, is not always healthy.

More than ever, Canadians suspect their phones are spying on them, with 37 per cent saying their mobile device definitely or probably listens to them without their permission via the microphone, up from 29 per cent last year.  

Percentage of Canadians who think their phone is listening to them.

2020: 37%

2019: 29%

When their mobile phone rings, 45 per cent of Canadians say they will answer it “some of the time” at best, with 16% answering it rarely or never. Residents of Quebec are the most likely to answer their phone with 67 per cent saying they answer it most of the time or almost always, and the same is true of Newfoundlanders. Seven in ten Canadians say they receive at least one spam call per week. Saskatchewan residents and Manitobans are the most likely to say they receive spam calls. 

When Canadians are asked how safe they feel from online harassment when using specific social media sites or apps, 83 per cent of Canadians using WhatsApp, and 81 per cent using LinkedIn, feel at least somewhat safe. Twitter and Facebook generated the lowest feelings of safety, with 65 per cent of Canadians saying they felt safe on Twitter and only 63 per cent on Facebook. 

Three in ten Canadians say they have been reluctant to use social media or participate in an online discussion because they are concerned about harassment. That is consistent with previous years. However, men are less likely to say they are reluctant this year (28 per cent) compared to last year (31 per cent), and women are almost equally as likely to say so this year (35 per cent) as they were last year (34 per cent).

One in four Canadians say they have directly experienced or witnessed online harassment. Canadians aged 18-34 were the most likely to report online harassment, with 20 per cent saying they experienced it and 21 per cent saying they witnessed it. Men and women are about equal in terms of reporting that they witnessed or experienced online harassment. 

Facebook is the dominant social media platform in Canada, used by seven in ten respondents, and selected as the favourite by one in three Canadians. Yet Canadians are also more likely to describe it as the most toxic and the most addictive platform. Facebook is named by 41 per cent of Canadians as the most toxic site they use, and it’s named by 38 per cent of Canadians as the most addictive. Also, only 18 per cent of Canadians describe it as the most helpful, and just 11 per cent describe it as the most positive. YouTube was seen as the most helpful site, with one in five Canadians describing it as such. 

Most helpful:
Facebook: 18%
YouTube: 20%

Most toxic:
Facebook: 41%

More Canadians think using social media is beneficial (35%) than those who think it harmful (16%). Most just consider it neutral to their mental health, with 42 per cent saying so.  Albertans are most likely to describe social media as beneficial at 45 per cent. New Brunswickers and Nova Scotians are most likely to describe it as harmful, with 23 per cent of each population saying so. 

Cybersecurity

Despite reports of scammers using COVID-19 as an opportunity to devise new methods of attack, Canadians are feeling a bit less concerned with the threat of malware. Also, fewer say they’ve fallen victim to cyberattacks. As everyone is getting used to new routines around using the internet for work and socializing, many Canadians also find themselves providing ad-hoc tech support services.

Three-quarters of Canadians say they are concerned about malware when using the internet. That majority is smaller than last year, when 80 per cent of Canadians were concerned. The number of Canadians that say they are very concerned has been in decline since 2017, when it was 40 per cent. In 2020, only 30 per cent say they are very concerned. 

In 2020, 27 per cent of Canadians said they had been the victim of a successful cyberattack. That’s down from 32 per cent in 2019. Residents of Manitoba are most likely to say they are a victim, with 37 per cent doing so, followed closely by Newfoundland at 35 per cent. 

Forty-four percent of Canadians say they provide informal tech support, about the same as in 2019. PEI residents are most likely to provide support, with 56 per cent saying they do.  Canadians are confident in their ability to provide tech support, with three in four of those that provide it saying they are confident in doing so. Of those who provide informal tech support, 77 per cent say they are concerned about the vulnerability of their friends and family to attack. Albertans show the most concern, with 80 per cent saying so. 

About our industry

CIRA is the steward of .CA, the top-level domain for Canadians. As a country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) manager, CIRA’s peers include other ccTLDs from across the globe like .BE for Belgium and .IE for Ireland. 

.CA is a truly Canadian domain, and is only available to individuals and businesses with a connection to Canada (learn more about our Canadian Presence Requirements).

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen the most new monthly registrations in the history of .CA. The physical distancing measures in place because of the pandemic have proven how important it is for businesses to have a dedicated .CA website for both branding and online shops. Before the pandemic began, nearly half of businesses didn’t have their own website. The internet is not just holding our digital economy together, it’s empowering Canadian business innovation—with the help of the trusted .CA. 

54,129 .CAs registered in May 2020.

Canadian internet users prefer .CA to .COM in many areas

Canadians prefer to visit .CA websites instead of .COM when providing personal information or seeking specific kinds of information, such as:

  • News and current events
  • Product research
  • Shopping
  • Banking

Source: CIRA research, April 2020 

Growth of .CA

CIRA continues to outperform its country code top-level domain (ccTLD) peers when it comes to the number of new domains registered. In CIRA’s latest fiscal year, .CA’s growth rate for new domains under management was nearly three times higher than the industry average.

Source: Zook data and CIRA data.

About this report

CIRA developed Canada’s Internet Factbook 2020 through an online survey conducted by The Strategic Counsel. The purpose of CIRA’s research is to identify trends in Canadian internet use. A total of 2,000 adult Canadians (18+) took the survey, conducted between March 24 and 31. The survey sample is weighted proportionate to population by province. It is also proportionate by age and by gender. Where percentages used to represent survey responses do not add up to exactly 100%, it is due to rounding. You can find the full survey results here.