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Canada still lags the U.S. in e-commerce, report finds

Two women use their mobile phones outside the Toronto Eaton Centre on July 3, 2014. A new report finds that a greater proportion of Americans shop online than Canadians.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Canadian retailers are missing out on a big market.

Shoppers here are browsing plenty of products and services online, but we lag the U.S. significantly in e-commerce, according to a new report from research firm eMarketer.

The report forecast that in 2014, 54.4 per cent of the Canadian population will buy something online – whether on their computers, tablets or mobile devices. That's much less than the 62.5-per-cent proportion of the American population who are expected to be digital buyers.

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Last year, 15.2 million Canadians made at least one online purchase during the year. That figure is expected to rise 6.5 per cent, to 16.2 million, by the end of this year. The number of digital buyers is growing at similar rates in the U.S. and Canada, meaning there will continue to be a gulf between the two countries for some time.

There is an even higher number of shoppers in Canada – 19.4 million – who are going to digital channels to research products or to browse, but do not buy.

Retailers are trying to reach those shoppers with more digital advertising initiatives that will encourage them to make a purchase in-store. Hudson's Bay Co., for example, announced this week that it will begin testing real-time mobile alerts to better target always-connected shoppers through their devices. With 70 per cent of purchases at HBC stores, those customers have looked at the website before coming to the store.

And the company is spending heavily to bring its e-commerce strategy up to speed. According to a report earlier this year from J.C. Williams Group, two-thirds of Canadians who shop online buy from non-Canadian websites.

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