Canadian e-tailers can

A recently released survey conducted by Deloitte & Touche and the Angus Reid Group asserts that Canadian e-shoppers are patriotic consumers. The survey, which was completed by 824 Web users, found 70 per cent of Canadian on-line purchasers prefer to purchase from Canadian sites and 52 per cent actually made their last purchase from such a site.

Another recent study, conducted by Ernst & Young, found the three favourite sites of Canadian shoppers to be, Chapters and eBay. While Chapters is certainly a Canadian e-tailer, Amazon and eBay are hardly pillars of Canadiana.

So what’s the real deal? Do Canadian on-line shoppers care if they’re buying from a Canadian site or not? Or are they more concerned with price and convenience? The answer is probably a bit of the former, but a whole lot more of the latter.

Trips to, billed as Canada’s on-line auction site, and eBay, the giant U.S.-based on-line auction house, quickly revealed that Canadians looking to sell off “Canadian” items could care less where they do their selling.

A search for items relating to Wayne Gretzky, unarguably the best-known Canadian athlete ever, brought up eight items on Clickabid’s site. A similar search on eBay turned up at least 50 Gretzky items.

A separate search for ‘loonie’ found nary an item on Clickabid, while five loonie collectibles turned up on eBay.

If Canadian shoppers (or in this case sellers) are patriotic, why do they prefer the services of eBay to Clickabid?

Part of the reason is almost certainly marketing. Unless you live in a cave or on an isolated mountain peak, you’ve heard of eBay. It’s hard to get through an entire week without hearing a story about eBay’s stock, a bizarre auction item on the site, or a network outage.

Conversely, Clickabid has been all but invisible since the site was launched last year. Clickabid’s relative obscurity was apparent in the number of items it had for auction – a mere 1,653. By contrast, eBay in its ‘Books, Movies, Music’ category alone boasted more than 500,000 available items.

Another likely reason for Canadians’ preference for eBay, related to marketing, is popularity. Obviously eBay has more visitors to its site than Clickabid. And if there are more potential buyers on eBay, the chances are that an item auctioned there will fetch a better price.

In the book e-tailer category, Amazon appears to hold the same sort of name-recognition edge eBay does. While Chapters was listed as a favourite site for Canadians in the Ernst & Young study, Amazon also made the top three. Chapters’ Canadian competitor Indigo did not.

On the Web, buying is relatively geography-independent. Shipping charges may mean items purchased from a site with a local depot are cheaper than similar goods purchased from a site with a depot in another country.

More important than shipping charges, though, are mass and name recognition. If Web operations can store and ship items in large quantities, they’ll be able to offer the items for lower prices than competitors who don’t move as many items.

But mass can only be achieved through recognition. The hackneyed phrase, “Build it and they will come”, from the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams, doesn’t work for Web operations. “Build it, market it, and provide good customer service and they will consider coming” might be a better motto for the Web.

Canadian e-tailers cannot rely on the patriotism of on-line Canadian shoppers if they hope to succeed. They need to market themselves and move goods just as well as their U.S. counterparts. If they fail to do so, their business will go the way of Costner’s movie career – south.