Business-to-business sales drive Canadian e-commerce

Value of Canadian e-commerce jumps more than 30 per cent in 2021

A worker holds some fish at a manufacturing plant | Getty Images / Porta

Canadian e-commerce transactions soared in 2021, with businesses – not consumers – doing most of the online purchasing. 

Statistics Canada data released today show that Canadian businesses that had at least five employees saw e-commerce sales jump more than 30 per cent, to $398 billion, compared with about $305 billion in 2020.

"Industries with a greater amount of business-to-business transactions dominated e-commerce sales," the nation's number cruncher said.

Manufacturers were responsible for about $105 billion worth of e-commerce sales. Wholesalers followed, with $77 billion worth of transactions, and those in the transportation and warehousing sectors conducted $51 billion worth of transactions.

Retailers, which sell directly to consumers, sold quite a bit less – only about $35 billion, or 8.8 per cent of overall Canadian e-commerce sales.

That was an increase of 60 per cent, compared with 2019, according to Statistics Canada data. 

One way that the pandemic affected retailers is that many of those who did not already have an e-commerce website built one

Statistics Canada data show 33 per cent of Canadian businesses had some e-commerce sales in 2021. That is up from 25 per cent of businesses with those sales in 2019.

Canadian businesses that sell products online grossed, on average, $3.7 million in those sales in 2021, according to Statistics Canada.

The trend in the past decade has been for businesses to transition into being what industry insiders call "omni-channel" ventures, where sales come from the Internet as well a bricks-and-mortar presence, such as a short-term pop-up store.

Cook Culture owners Jed and Regan Grieve recently closed their longtime bricks-and-mortar store at 377 Howe Street, and converted their Vancouver operation into being entirely e-commerce. The duo's venture is omni-channel because they continue to operate a physical store in Victoria. 

The Vancouver store closure, Jed Grieve told BIV, was in part a way to minimize lease costs. He is optimistic that his company's popular YouTube channel will continue to drive customer interest and transactions. 

Vancouver-based Indochino has used a reverse strategy.

It launched an e-commerce website in September 2007, after co-founders Kyle Vucko and Heikal Gani dreamed up the concept of having an online-only suit-selling business the year before, when they were students at the University of Victoria.

By 2011, the duo realized that having a tangible presence could help sales, so they launched what they called travelling tailor pop-up stores, which were open for four or five days at a time before moving on to a new city.

They attached a permanent showroom to Indochino's Vancouver head office, and then opened stores in Toronto, New York and San Francisco. Their first stand-alone Vancouver store came in 2014.

Indochino now has more than 50 showrooms across North America, according to its website.