Executive Summary: The big picture
The pandemic has challenged Canadians to find new ways to work, learn, socialize, and enjoy themselves. In navigating these challenges, many of us turned to the internet to adapt our way of life. It connected us in all the ways it did before, but even more so. Many of us also turned to the internet for a new approach to activities we never would have considered trying online.
Every year, CIRA publishes Canada’s Internet Factbook to help shine a light on the ways in which Canadians are really using the internet, and to track how those habits are changing. Over the past year, Canadians came together to flatten the curve on COVID-19. Now that its trajectory appears to be on a downward slope, we are looking ahead to how the new habits we’ve picked up might continue to shape Canada in the post-pandemic transition.
Consider just some of the ways we’ve changed over the past year:
More than six in ten Canadians report that their screen time has increased during the pandemic. Our kids are also spending more time on screens, with 62 per cent of Canadians saying their children’s screen time has also increased during the pandemic.
Half of Canadians received medical care online for the first time since the pandemic began (49 per cent). More than half of us also attended some kind of virtual event for the first time (55 per cent), with birthday parties, holiday dinners, and exercise classes being the most common virtual activities.
Even after the pandemic is over, 57 per cent of Canadians say they will not unplug from the internet more often. Some even say they will unplug less often.
With restrictions on restaurant dining and grocery store capacity limited in many parts of the country, there has been a big increase in ordering food online. One in four Canadians say they are ordering home food delivery more frequently than before the pandemic began. And 17 per cent of Canadians are now subscribed to a food box or meal kit service.
While many of us were logging into social media to stay connected during the pandemic, many others feel reluctant to log on because of concerns about online harassment. One-third of Canadians reported feeling this way, and women were even more likely to feel concerns of being harassed, with 39 per cent saying so compared to 29 per cent of men.
While many employers plan to re-open their offices, many Canadians prefer to work at home. Thirty-six per cent of survey respondents say they would be unwilling to work for an organization that doesn’t also allow for remote work.
The pandemic and its dramatic effect on our lives has lasted longer than we’d hoped for. Yet Canadians have endured the threat of the virus and strict lockdown measures by adapting to new routines and approaching life in a different way – approaches that are increasingly enabled by the internet.
Over the past year, digital activities have been the focal point of our lives, with the pandemic requiring many of us to adapt our work, education, and even social routines to the screen. As Canada’s vaccination campaign continues to roll out and COVID case counts fall, many are looking ahead to a transitionary post-COVID era. What it will look like isn’t totally clear yet, but it’s reasonable to think that many of the novel features of pandemic life will continue. Canadians have tried doing certain things online for the first time, or shifted their routines to be more dependent on the internet. The results have been good enough that we have accelerated a shift towards a more digital economy. As Shopify executive Harley Finkelstein put it during a CNBC interview, “It seems like the commerce world that would have existed in the year 2030 has really been pulled into the year 2020.” And several aspects of this new world are likely here to stay.
In this year’s Canada’s Internet Factbook, we see this expressed in many ways across different facets of our lives. We are spending more time looking at screens and less time disconnected from the internet. We’re upgrading our internet connections to support our new digital habits. We’re dipping our toe in the digital waters and trying many things online for the first time, from talking to loved ones to navigating government services to ordering take-out for dinner.
Just like no one was sure what the pandemic experience would hold for Canada, there is no certainty in what lies ahead now. But when we consider how the economy may recover in the months ahead, Canadians’ willingness to embrace new online activities provides a hint at its direction.
Focus on Big Tech
Canadians continue to have a love-hate relationship with Facebook.
Facebook continues to dominate as the most popular social media platform in Canada, and the other major Facebook-owned apps are growing in adoption too. Seven out of 10 Canadians name Facebook when asked what social media sites or messaging apps they use, and 62 per cent also name Facebook Messenger. Then it’s YouTube at 55 per cent, followed by the other two Facebook-owned apps: WhatsApp at 41 per cent and Instagram at 40 per cent.
Across the country, Facebook is most popular in the Maritimes. Seventy-nine per cent of Nova Scotians say they use it, followed by 77 per cent of respondents in P.E.I. and 76 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.
When asked how they feel about Facebook, Canadians respond with mixed emotions. While Facebook is second only to YouTube in being the most helpful social media site— with 16 per cent describing it as such—it is also viewed quite negatively. More than four in 10 Canadians feel Facebook is the most toxic social media site, and 36 per cent say it is the most addictive. Only one in 10 Canadians say Facebook is the most positive site or app they use.
When asked how safe they feel using popular social media platforms, only 63 per cent of Canadians feel they are safe from online harassment when using Facebook. That’s the lowest reported compared to LinkedIn, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter. Canadians felt safest when using LinkedIn (87 per cent) and WhatsApp (82 per cent).
While a majority of Canadians report feeling safe when using social media, many feel reluctant to log on because of concerns about online harassment. One-third of Canadians say they feel this way in 2021, up from 26 per cent in 2017. Women are more likely to feel this way than men, with 39 per cent saying so compared to 29 per cent of men.
When they do log on, the experience of witnessing or experiencing harassment directly is also becoming more common. One in four Canadians says they have either witnessed or experienced online harassment. The youngest group of Canadians surveyed, ages 18-34, were also the most likely to be exposed to online harassment, with 38 per cent saying so.
Overall, most Canadians feel that social media has a neutral impact on their overall sense of wellbeing, with 43 per cent saying so. More Canadians feel it is beneficial to them (29 per cent) than harmful (20 per cent)—but the number of Canadians who see it as detrimental is increasing. Slightly more Canadians feel social media is harmful (20 per cent) to their wellbeing than in 2020, when 16 per cent described it as such. Similarly, fewer see it as beneficial, with a decline from 35 per cent describing it as beneficial in 2020.
In May, Facebook announced partnerships with 14 Canadian news publishers as part of its News Innovation Test. It’s the latest example of Facebook’s partnerships with news organizations made around the world as governments discuss whether Facebook should pay publishers for linking to their work.
Facebook remains one of the top ways that Canadians access news. In 2021, 39 per cent of Canadians say they usually access news online through Facebook. However, it is only the third most popular method behind visiting news sites directly (52 per cent) or using a Google search (49 per cent).
This year’s data shows that more and more Canadians signed up for an Amazon Prime membership during the pandemic. The trend is seen not only in online shopping numbers, but also in the popularity of online streaming platforms.
Amazon Prime Video, which requires an Amazon Prime membership to access, is now subscribed to by 37 per cent of Canadians. That’s up from just 24 per cent a year earlier. It ranks second behind Netflix for paid online content providers that Canadians subscribe to, which still dominates with 60 per cent. Amazon Prime Video ranks ahead of Disney Plus, at 17 per cent and Bell’s Crave TV at 15 per cent.
It seems Canadians are also using Amazon’s online shopping service more frequently during the pandemic. When asked if they are shopping with global e-commerce retailers more often or less often, with Amazon given as an example, 52 per cent of Canadians say they are doing so more frequently. Only 30 per cent of Canadians say they are shopping more often with traditional “bricks and mortar” retailers that also have an online store, and 22 per cent say they are shopping more with national or large chain grocery stores.
Saskatchewan residents were the least likely to say they shopped at global retailers like Amazon more often, with only 36 per cent saying so compared to the national average of 52 per cent. Nova Scotia was on the other end of the spectrum with 56 per cent saying they shopped with global retailers more often.
When the best entertainment option is limited by the need to stay at home during the pandemic, it’s no surprise that “Netflix and chill” is a favourite way for Canadians to fill their free time. But the term is becoming muddled by the recent emergence of other streaming video options that now resonate with Canadians.
Whether it’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, or other options, 72 per cent of Canadians say they spend at least one hour per day watching TV, movies, or audio online. About four in 10 Canadians spend more than three hours per day watching. Quebeckers are the most likely to spend no time watching TV or movies online, with 21 per cent saying so. Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are the least likely to spend no time watching, with only 8 per cent saying so.
72% of Canadians spend at least 1 hour per day streaming content online
The Canadian government is considering new legislation to regulate Netflix and other online streaming platforms to require them to produce and feature a minimum amount of Canadian content, similar to the existing requirement for traditional broadcasters. Despite no such requirement being currently in place, most Canadians are already seeking out homegrown content when watching video online. About six in 10 Canadians say they at least occasionally seek out Canadian content in this way, and one in seven say they often or always do so. Perhaps motivated by language considerations, Quebeckers are the most likely to say they always or often seek out Canadian content at 20 per cent.
When Canadians want to find news, they are still turning to Google more often than social media sites.
About half of Canadians say they usually find news with Google searches, a method second only to visiting specific news sites directly. It ranks well ahead of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, or blogs. Residents of B.C. and Manitoba are most likely to say they usually use Google to access news, both at 54 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador residents are the least likely to say so, at just 40 per cent.
When asked what the most common way they access news is, one in five Canadians say it’s with Google. Again, B.C. residents are most likely to name Google here, with 26 per cent using it to access news most often. P.E.I. residents were least likely to name it here, at just 5 per cent.
For the first time: Canadians trying new things online
Canadians had to consider using the internet in ways they hadn’t before the pandemic. A virtual visit with the doctor is just one example of the ways that more activities moved into a digital space.
Half of Canadians say they received medical care online for the first time since the pandemic began. Manitobans were more likely to pay a first-time virtual visit to the doctor, with 60 per cent saying they’d done so. P.E.I. residents were least likely to do so with just 34 per cent.
Visits to the doctor weren’t the only new thing Canadians tried online this year. More than half of Canadians attended some type of online activity for the first time. Having a virtual birthday celebration was the most common new online activity, with 16 per cent of Canadians saying they’d tried it for the first time. That was closely followed by a holiday dinner (15 per cent), an exercise class (14 per cent), a religious service (13 per cent), and a musical concert (10 per cent). Manitobans were the most likely to try some activity online for the first time, at 58 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador residents were least likely to try something new online, at 41 per cent.
Most Canadians have attended some kind of online event for the first time since the pandemic began
Birthday party: 16%
Holiday dinner: 15%
Exercise class: 14%
Religious service: 13%
Musical concert: 10%
Let’s get digital: Activities shifting more online
Aside from jumping on the internet to try something new, Canadians also found themselves doing more of the same online. From ordering food to interacting with our banks to connecting with friends and family, we shifted towards a more digital experience. In fact, we’re doing so much online that it’s hard for many of us to consider going too long without being connected or moving to an area without broadband. Even when Canadians begin to have more options available to them as pandemic restrictions lift, it’s reasonable to think that some of these habits will stick long-term.
More than half of Canadians say they are spending more time watching TV and movies or connecting with family and friends via video or teleconference since the pandemic began. Fewer of us are spending more time reading books (31 per cent), playing video games (24 per cent), or listening to podcasts (20 per cent).
When asked what type of organizations they communicate with most online, 68 per cent of Canadians selected their banks, making it the most popular option in both 2020 and this year’s poll. Government was the next most popular with 48 per cent selecting it. Slightly more Canadians said they were communicating with their workplace online in 2021, with 44 per cent selecting it compared to 41 per cent in 2020. A lot more Canadians were doing virtual doctor’s office visits (28 per cent) in 2021 compared to last year (17 per cent), and more were talking to their insurance companies online this year (43 per cent) compared to last year (37 per cent).
Perhaps that’s why people find it hard to imagine disconnecting from the internet. Asked to think ahead to after the pandemic, 57 per cent anticipate they will unplug from the internet as or less often as they do now. Only about a third (34 per cent) anticipate they will unplug from the internet more often after the pandemic. Similarly, Canadians can’t imagine moving to an area lacking broadband. Almost six in 10 Canadians say it’s very unlikely they would purchase a home in a location without access to high-speed internet. Only one in 10 says it is likely they’d be willing to make such a purchase.
One thing that Canadians have enjoyed ordering online is food. One in four Canadians say they are ordering home food delivery more frequently than before the pandemic began. Ontarians and Manitobans are the most likely to be ordering food delivery, both with 29 per cent saying they order it more frequently.
Sixty-four per cent of Canadians ordered take-out online directly from a restaurant’s website or app, up from 53 per cent a year ago. Forty-five per cent of Canadians ordered take-out using a food delivery service like Uber Eats or Skip the Dishes, which is up from 37 per cent a year ago. Ordering food from grocery stores online was also more popular, with 31 per cent saying they ordered online for in-store pickup and 21 per cent saying they ordered online for delivery. Both these options were more popular than in 2020.
Subscriptions to a food box or meal kit service, such as HelloFresh or Goodfood, were also up, with 17 per cent using them this year compared to 12 per cent in 2020. Looking across provincial habits, Albertans are the biggest fans of take-out, with 70 per cent ordering directly from a restaurant’s website or app and 56 per cent using a food delivery service.
One-quarter of Canadians say they are ordering home food delivery more frequently than before the pandemic
During the pandemic, at times, some stores were forced to close their doors or keep their in-store shoppers to a minimum. Other essentials like grocery stores allowed in-person shopping but at a reduced volume. As a result, shopping habits have changed to favour online methods. In 2021, only 44 per cent of online shoppers say that they would at least sometimes consider visiting a physical store and then make an online purchase, compared to 51 per cent in 2020. Shoppers are more likely to make an order online and then pick it up in-store, with 17 per cent saying they always or often do this. Another 39 per cent say they sometimes do this, also up from 35 per cent one year ago. Only 16 per cent never do this, down from 22 per cent one year ago.
While Canadians may be shifting more of their buying habits online, many are still worried about their cybersecurity overall. About three-quarters say they are concerned about malware when using the internet, with 28 per cent saying they are very concerned. There are fewer Canadians feeling very concerned with malware since 2017, when 40 per cent said so.
One in four Canadians say they have been the victim of a successful cyberattack, which is also decreasing from 32 per cent in 2019 and 27 per cent last year.
View from the home office: Forced remote work due to COVID-19
In March 2020, many workplaces closed their offices and employees were required to work from home. While setting up a laptop on the kitchen table and trying to keep the pets from getting in the way of your video conferencing took some getting used to, many Canadians came to see the benefits of skipping the commute. Even as the risk of COVID-19 infection wanes and offices can re-open, we expect that many Canadians will be happy to continue to work at home at least part of the time.
Work at home was a new experience for most Canadians during the pandemic, with 63 per cent saying that no one in their household worked remotely prior to COVID-19. Quebeckers were the most likely to say they’d never worked from home, at 70 per cent. Saskatchewanians were least likely to say no one in the household worked at home, at 56 per cent.
Many have taken to working in their pyjamas. Enough so that 36 per cent of Canadians say they would be unwilling to work for an organization that doesn’t allow remote work, while only 24 per cent say they would be willing. The number of Canadians willing to work for an organization that doesn’t allow remote work slightly declined from 27 per cent in 2020. Some Canadians take the home office concept even further and expect their employers to start covering some of their costs. For instance, 24 per cent are unwilling to work for an organization that does not cover their home internet costs, and 29 per cent are unwilling to work for an organization that does not cover their mobile phone costs.
Across the country, Newfoundlanders are most likely to be willing to work for an organization that doesn’t allow employees to work remotely, with 36 per cent indicating such. Ontarians are least likely to be willing, with just 22 per cent saying so.
When it comes to their favourite benefits of working from home, 76 per cent of Canadians value less time spent commuting. More than six in 10 Canadians feel they are saving more time overall by working from home, and about six out of 10 feel they are saving money. More than half of Canadians say they value increased flexibility with their chores and errands.
Domestic connections: Internet in the home
During the past year, the way Canadians access the internet remains stable across traditional methods. Connected devices in the home are growing in number and introducing new features such as voice-connected assistants to keep us company when we can’t have any friends over.
Canadians most typically access the internet using a desktop or laptop computer, with 86 per cent saying they do so. The next most common method is with a smartphone or mobile device at 74 per cent. Only 42 per cent use a tablet to access the internet. An increasing amount of people say they will typically access the internet with a TV, with 24 per cent saying they do so in 2021 compared to just 17 per cent saying they did so in 2020. Using a voice-controlled device to access the internet is also becoming more common, with 15 per cent saying they do so this year compared to 12 per cent last year.
When asked what device they use most often to access the internet, 53 per cent of Canadians say it’s a laptop or desktop computer. About one in three say it’s a smartphone or mobile device, and 12 per cent say a tablet.
When they go online, Canadians report they spend most of their time reading email (71 per cent), going on social media (47 per cent), reading the news (36 per cent) and banking (36 per cent).
For those that say they use a connected home device such as a voice-activated assistant to access the internet, they are most commonly using them to listen to music, radio, or podcasts, with 10 per cent naming this activity. Another 5 per cent use the device for news and current events.
The number of Canadians using a voice-activated assistant such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home is growing. In 2021, 32 per cent of Canadians say they own such a device, which is up from 26 per cent a year ago and 19 per cent in 2019. More Canadians are also using smart home devices for home security, up to 20 per cent this year from 15 per cent in 2020. Even connected light bulbs are being bought more often, with 11 per cent of Canadians using them compared to 9 per cent a year ago.
Spending a lot of time at home during the pandemic might find some Canadians talking to themselves – or at least talking to their voice-activated assistant. About one-quarter say they’ve engaged in a full conversation with it. Most Canadians are polite to their assistants, with 68 per cent saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the device. But 35 per cent of Canadians admit to losing their temper and swearing at the devices, up slightly from 32 per cent last year.
7 in 10 Canadians have said 'please' or 'thank you' to their voice-activated assistant
Need for speed: Internet speed and quality
Spending a lot of time at home with all of our connected devices has us spending more time online, and some Canadians feel their internet service is in decline. Some are upgrading their internet packages to try to improve matters, and more Canadians are signing up for unlimited data packages.
Canadians are also spending a big portion of their day connected, with 55 per cent saying they spend five or more hours per day online, a steep increase from just 36 per cent five years ago. Even just last year, only 44 per cent of Canadians said they spent that much time online.
All that time online may come with some frustration, as one in three Canadians says their internet is slower since the pandemic began. Manitobans are much more likely to report this, at 45 per cent. Nova Scotians are the least likely, with just one in five reporting it.
One in five Canadians says they have upgraded their home internet package since the pandemic began. Quebeckers were the most likely to upgrade, with 26 per cent saying so, and Atlantic Canadians were the least likely to do so (in P.E.I only 7 per cent did, in Newfoundland and Labrador, just 8 per cent).
One-third of Canadians report that their home internet is slower since the pandemic began
One-in-five say they have upgraded their home internet package since the pandemic began
More Canadians are getting unlimited data as part of their internet package, with 53 per cent having it in 2021 compared to 45 per cent having it last year and just 29 per cent having it in 2016.
Regardless of what data package they have, 81 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the amount of data included. Having unlimited data available does seem to increase satisfaction with internet service at a provincial level. Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick are most likely to report having unlimited data and are also most likely to be satisfied. But no province sees more than 9 per cent dissatisfied with the amount of data in their package, with P.E.I. the highest in this category.
Stop staring! Managing screen time
It was necessary for everyone in the family to increase their daily screen time during the pandemic. Doing more activities online, such as education, work, and socializing, meant that there was less opportunity to get a break from the screen. Parents are aware of the impact all this additional screen time might have on their kids and are trying to put more structure in place. The concept of screen time itself is necessarily evolving, divided between activities that are necessary and productive and other activities that are purely recreational.
Screen time has gone up for everyone in the family during the pandemic, including for children, despite parents’ efforts to structure screen time. About six in 10 Canadians say their kid’s screen time has increased since the pandemic began. Ontarians are the most likely to say their kids’ screen time has increased, with 72 per cent saying so. New Brunswickers were the least likely to say it increased a lot, at 44 per cent.
Parents shouldn’t stress out about using more screen time to cope during the pandemic, says Matthew Johnson, director of education at MediaSmarts. After all, much of it has been beneficial.
“Aside from needing digital devices for school, we know that they have been a lifeline for kids to keep in touch with their friends and that games and video have been an important way of cheering themselves up, especially when other recreational activities have been limited,” he says. “Rather than counting hours and minutes of screen time, it’s best to keep an eye on total sedentary time and the times and places where kids are using screen devices. Keeping screens out of bedrooms and keeping them turned off during family time and at least an hour before bedtime will promote healthy tech use.”
In 2021, 58 per cent of parents say they enforce screen time rules for children under 18. For those parents, they are more likely this year to report using weekday limits, with 52 per cent saying they put them in place, compared to 39 per cent in 2020. It’s less common to have unwritten rules this year, with only 43 per cent saying they use this approach compared to 51 per cent last year. Other methods of controlling screen time include setting a schedule (30 per cent) and collecting devices (20 per cent).
When it comes to managing your kids’ screen time, their age is what should dictate the approach, according to Johnson. If your children are still under two years old, then screens should be limited as much as possible.
“That’s not because there’s necessarily anything bad about screens, but because screens don’t provide the things that babies and toddlers need to develop – interaction with other people and opportunities to explore the world around them,” he says. “There is an exception for video chats with people they already know, such as relatives, which seem to provide some benefit.”
When it comes to older kids, what matters more than how much time they spend on the screen is what they are doing on that screen, Johnson adds. Parents should encourage social activities that are educational and creative or activities that are active such as a dancing game or a Pokémon Go-motivated walk around the neighbourhood.
With all the requirements pulling our attention onto the screen, about half of Canadians say the longest they have managed to go without being online is less than one day. Just last year, only 40 per cent of Canadians reported the same. In 2021, almost one in five Canadians say the longest they’ve gone without being online is five hours or less, which makes you wonder if people are getting enough sleep.
Half (49%) say the longest they’ve gone without being online in the last 12 months is less than 1 day.
Many Canadians don’t even try to take a break from going online, with 36 per cent saying they never make an attempt to unplug, up from 29 per cent in 2020. For those that rarely or never unplug, the most common reasons keeping them wired in are that “it’s easier to stay connected” (37 per cent), to stay connected to family (34 per cent), to stay connected to friends (33 per cent), and to stay connected to work (23 per cent). Also, 15 per cent of Canadians say they are addicted to being online.
For those that can take a break sometimes or often, the most common reasons for unplugging include to relax (48 per cent), to avoid wasting time (42 per cent), to recharge (38 per cent), to focus on face-to-face relationships (30 per cent), and to improve sleep (30 per cent).
Children are spending a lot more time on screens for a variety of reasons, including playing games (50 per cent), for school (43 per cent), and to watch TV (35 per cent).
Adults are also spending more time with screens, with 63 per cent of Canadians estimating their own screen time has increased since the pandemic began. That includes 27 per cent of Canadians that feel it has increased a lot.
Canadians say they are spending more screen time for activities such as watching TV (38 per cent), socializing via messaging and chat apps (25 per cent), working (22 per cent), shopping (21 per cent), and socializing via videoconference (20 per cent). Residents of Quebec, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador are the most likely in Canada to say they spend their screen time socializing on chat and messenger apps.
As pandemic restrictions lift and more activities become available, Johnson encourages everyone to consider if they’ve created any bad habits with screens that should be broken.
“We should definitely take this as an opportunity to reflect on how we and our kids use screen devices. A lot of people have discovered new screen activities - from YouTube guitar lessons to virtual field trips - that have brought a lot of richness to our lives,” he says. “At the same time, we may have developed some bad habits that we need to address. As parents, we should start by taking a look at the messages that we're sending with our own screen use. What we do sends a louder message than anything we say.”
Less window shopping, more screen shopping: E-commerce trends in Canada
As we saw in our focus on Amazon section, the biggest global retailers have been the winners during the pandemic when it comes to Canadian shoppers. Their financial reports confirm that’s the case worldwide as well. Even though the e-commerce giants are benefitting from a time when shopping in physical retail environments just isn’t an option, we see that many Canadians are trying to spend their money with small businesses as well. When we can go back to shopping in stores, most Canadians will do so eagerly, as it’s still their preference.
Canadians are more likely to be shopping primarily at large chain stores, with 40 per cent saying that’s their habit for food and other items. Only 12 per cent of Canadians say they are primarily shopping at local small businesses. But 37 per cent say they are shopping at both local businesses and big retailers equally. Saskatchewanians are most likely to say they primarily shop at small businesses, with 22 per cent saying so.
When it comes to online shopping, almost every Canadian with an internet connection is participating, with 88 per cent reporting making a purchase online in the last 12 months. Of those online shoppers, only 31 per cent say they prefer shopping online more than shopping in stores, and 38 per cent say they still prefer shopping in stores. Those numbers are consistent with our 2020 survey results, compared to 2019 when there was a slight preference towards online shopping, with 38 per cent saying they preferred it.
Familiarity with mobile payments or digital wallets remains stable, with 76 per cent of Canadians saying they have heard of such a service, like Apple Pay, for example. Quebeckers are the least likely to be aware of digital wallets, with only 65 per cent saying they've heard of them.
Keep it local, eh: Buying Canadian on the global internet
Canadians may be shopping more online during the pandemic, but they still want to seek out and support Canadian retailers when possible. Lockdown measures severely impacted local businesses, and there is a desire to help stores that fly the flag as they adapt to business in the digital world. Canadians demonstrated they were willing to be consistent about finding Canadian websites to do business with. And it’s no wonder since Canadians trust those sites more and find their experience with them to be on par with international competition.
Seven in 10 Canadians say they prefer making online purchases from Canadian retailers when they have a choice. That’s up from 68 per cent in 2020 and from 64 per cent in 2019. P.E.I. and Nova Scotia residents are the most likely to play to the home crowd when online shopping, with 79 per cent saying it's their preference in both provinces.
“I feel quite patriotic and proud to hear that so many Canadians continue to say that they prefer making their online purchases from Canadian retailers when they can possibly make that their choice,” says Avery Swartz, a digital marketing consultant and the CEO of Camp Tech. “The best way that a Canadian retailer can distinguish themselves from other online retailers is to have a .CA domain name. It’s kind of the number one way to show that you are Canadian.”
Canadian stores can also play to the home crowd by making it clear that they are based in Canada on their website and in social media posts, Swartz says. Stating clearly what regions you will ship to will help with search engine optimization, and you can target the geographic regions you sell to using search and social ads. Don’t be afraid to keep telling them that you’re proud to be Canadian and you love Canadian shoppers.
“It really does kind of burrow into shopper's brains so that they remember you next time they’re looking for something and want to purchase directly from a Canadian retailer,” she says.
Why do Canadians look out for Canadian stores online? Fifty-five per cent of Canadians said they did so to benefit the Canadian economy or support local businesses. That’s increased from 48 per cent that said the same in last year’s survey. Other motivations for shopping within the country include paying with the Canadian dollar or exchange rate at 13 per cent, and avoiding custom fees or duty fees at 12 per cent. Sometimes, just being Canadian is reason enough, as 59 per cent of Canadians say they purposefully made an online purchase from a Canadian retailer instead of an American or other international retailer in the past 12 months.
“I do think that there is a real spirit of Canadians wanting to support Canadian, particularly during the pandemic,” said Swartz. “As we start to hopefully move our way out of the pandemic, having that Canadian recovery is so, so important to all of us. And I think Canadians really take a lot of pride and want to see that happen. They know supporting local business is a key part of that.”
For those that are buying Canadian, 55 per cent say the experience of purchasing with them was about the same as past experiences making similar purchases from the U.S. or elsewhere. Another 35 per cent said the experience was actually better.
“There really is an issue with people wanting to go with what is the most convenient online experience,” Swartz says. “They want to go with whoever has the best price or can offer the best value. They also look at things like shipping. But that online shopping experience is so, so important.”
Some international competitors have honed their customer experience well, she says. So, it’s good to see so many shoppers find Canadian retailers are just as good or better. For stores that are trying to improve, she suggests getting to know your customer as best as you can. Consider forming a customer advisory group and using them to test new ideas or redesigns of the e-commerce experience.
“It’s a great idea to have some people that you can just kind of do a gut check with, run it by them to see what they think,” Swartz advises.
When it comes to considerations of security and privacy, Canadians say they are more comfortable making purchases on Canadian retail or government websites than on U.S. retail websites. About three in four Canadians say they are perfectly comfortable making a purchase on a Canadian retail website, 69 per cent say they are comfortable with a government website, and only half say they are comfortable with a U.S. retail website.
Looking ahead to the post-pandemic transition, Swartz says it’s worth it to take a moment and celebrate what businesses have been able to achieve.
“I give a huge round of applause to all small, medium, and even large businesses that survived during the pandemic, it has been a time,” she says. “I have seen so many people be so creative and so resilient in the ways that they are trying to connect with their customers.”
At CIRA, we see this resilience reflected in the number of .CA domain registrations that have occurred over the past year. In the year of the pandemic, Canadian small businesses have needed to pivot quickly to get an online storefront. As a result, we have seen .CA domain registrations skyrocket from around 2.8 million domain registrations in March 2020—when the pandemic began—to over 3.1 million registrations a year later.
One trend that’s come out of the pandemic and should last is the effort that businesses are making to meet their customers where they are, Swartz says. Whether that is by organizing to-the-door delivery for customers, or arranging curbside pickup at a local store, or even integrating purchases right within a social media feed, it all makes the experience of online shopping more ubiquitous and easier.
The COVID-19 pandemic marked a period of online experimentation for Canadians. Students, patients, families, and businesses of all sizes—amongst many others—adopted new techniques and technologies to keep their heads above water. They tried new things online for the first time and spent more time doing familiar things than ever before. While the path ahead for Canada’s economic recovery post-pandemic is uncertain, we hope that the data contained in this report can provide a glimmer of insight into what might come next. Many features of pandemic life are likely here to stay, but which ones are here to stay is unclear. We will continue to watch closely as Canadians renegotiate the boundaries of their traditionally offline routines with our new, more connected world going forward.
About this report
CIRA developed Canada’s Internet Factbook 2021 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 2,022 adult Canadians (18+) took the survey, conducted in March, 2021. 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.