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Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. has been trying to sharpen its e-commerce edge in recent years, but the company has work to do to win over some customers dissatisfied with the retailer’s online experience.

Reynard Li/Bloomberg

Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. has been trying to sharpen its e-commerce edge in recent years, but the company has work to do to win over some customers dissatisfied with the retailer's online experience.

Canadian Tire announced the unexpected departure of CEO Michael Medline last week, as it reinstalled former CEO Stephen Wetmore in the role. Sources said the move is aimed at improving the company's e-commerce strategy.

Customers say such improvements would be welcome. Bracebridge, Ont., resident Naomi Moore, 31, said last week she gave up trying to purchase an inflatable pool toy for her toddler. Although the product was advertised on Canadian Tire's website, Ms. Moore wasn't able to add it to her cart.

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And the item was not in any stores from Kawartha Lakes to Barrie, Ont., she said.

"They didn't even give me an option to order in from another store," she said. "My [local] store said they could look into making another order to their store but they never got back to me. I order online all the time from a variety of places and I've never come across a place where they say 'We can't actually send you this item that shows as available on our website.'"

Toronto resident Alex McLeod, 32, said he tried to place an order for cedar mulch on Thursday. But he didn't complete his purchase because he later discovered he would have to pick it up himself – a situation he finds difficult because he doesn't own a vehicle.

"I checked Amazon first – that's my go-to," he said. "They didn't have anything that was cost effective so I thought I would support Canadian Tire, but they had cedar mulch available listed on its website as an in-store pickup only. I thought, 'how is this any different than a flyer?' I found it quite inconvenient."

Canadian Tire said it's continuing to expand and improve its online dealings and that it's "making excellent progress" doing so.

"We have a great feedback process in place to quickly understand and resolve our customers' issues," a Canadian Tire spokesperson said via e-mail. "With every customer interaction, whether it's online or in-store, we want our customers to be satisfied with their shopping experience."

Kaan Yigit, president at Solutions Research Group Consultants Inc., calls Canadian Tire a "laggard" in the digital realm.

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"It's not top of mind for consumers as a place to shop online or via mobile," he said. "Even though it's one of the biggest and most respected retailers in the country, it didn't even make the list of Top 15 online and mobile e-commerce destinations in Canada in our Q4 2015 research on e-commerce."

He cites Amazon, eBay, Wal-Mart, Chapters Indigo, and Best Buy as the top five retailers and e-commerce companies in Canada.

"There are 27.5 million Canadians online and 63 per cent of those shop online monthly and 36 per cent do it weekly – it's a pretty significant and growing market."

"Shopping is evolving into a digital component and a bricks-and-mortar component," said Alex Arifuzzaman, a partner at InterStratics Consultants Inc. "It's figuring out how to make everything more efficient, how to keep a more informed consumer happy and continue with optimization of your physical network while stitching in the digital network to make profits – that's called omni-channel."

He said that Canadian Tire is rooted in a "dealer-based" model, meaning that "in the past, when every dealer had their own store in their own territory, it was very simple to allocate the customer and the sales to one dealer."

The retailer, he said, has an important advantage, however.

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"It has an extremely efficient distribution system from Hong Kong, China, to the different warehouses in North America and they do that very well," he said. "That works well with online or traditional retail."

And Canadian Tire has made progress in some ways, analysts say.

"They've certainly had increased traction in the recent past," said Kenric Tyghe, senior vice-president and analyst at Raymond James. "They've seen improved performance with their WOW Guide [a catalogue] launch and their omni-channel have improved dramatically in the last 18 months to two years. It's not to say they're in a market-leading position, but certainly their competitiveness online has improved."

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