Ecomm’s surge has bolstered holiday shopping early birds

Google Canada reveals the biggest trends for this year's season at it launches free online listings for retailers.

Canadians’ heightened enthusiasm for ecommerce is pushing them to begin their holiday shopping much earlier than normal this season.

The according to a new report from Google Canada. The search engine giant is also revealing it is now free for retailers to list their products on Google in Canada.

In a webinar outlining this year’s report and the trends therein, Eric Morris, managing director for retail at Google Canada, said there is a “tectonic shift in how and what we buy” thanks to the pandemic, saying Canada’s “ecommerce moment is now.” According to its insights, 61% of Canadian holiday shoppers say they will shop more online this year than in the past, coming with a 33% of people who normally shop in store for Black Friday saying they will not in 2020.

And the shopping season is already starting to begin: 22% of Canadians have already started holiday shopping, with 65% saying it is to avoid crowds. Searches for “gifts for her” are currently up 200% from the same period last year, despite the fact that Christmas is roughly three months away, Morris said.

Historically, Morris says, online shopping tends to grow by around 20% in Canada. In March, however, it accelerated 200% from 2019. He says that thanks to the pandemic, ecommerce could be double the size of last year, and retailers need to be prepared for “orders of magnitude” larger volumes compared with 2019, and need to plan marketing and promotions accordingly.

Online searches for “curbside” are up 3,000% year over year, and there is sustained interest in the pick-up option. Google also reports a spike in inventory and shipping related terms too, whether it’s “Canada Post Delays” or “in-stock,” both up considerably from 2019. Kristina Elkhazin, head of industry for retail at Google Canada, called out Canadian Tire as an example of successfully pivoting and growing ecomm for Q2.

Elkhazin pointed out that 30% of Canadians are hesitant about in-store experience, reflected in 77% of Canadians consolidating trips to make fewer than last year. Meanwhile, 42% of shoppers want their in-store shop to be completely without contact. Discovery and customer service, she said, are being redefined, as browsing time is being severely constrained.

There is also a growing appetite to try new brands and retailers. One third of Canadians have shopped with a store or retailer they had not tried pre-pandemic, a great opportunity to build relationship with new shoppers. Consumers are also craving local, as searches for “small business” reached an all-time high, with “Canadian skincare” and “local jewelry” seeing huge boosts.

Shoppers are also more open than ever to gift cards, with one-third of shoppers purchasing more of them this year, something Elkhazin said needs to be emphasized in marketing materials. She added that there is a self-care trend of shoppers looking to luxuries like earrings and golf clubs. Marketers, she said, need to adjust their messaging to reflect a “now is the time to treat yourself” ethos.

Free listings could help small and large businesses alike

Google released the report alongside an announcement that it is free for retailers to list their products on Google in Canada. Though geared towards the small and local retailers that have become more popular, it also means larger advertisers can augment their paid campaigns with free listings. By mid-October, search results on the Google Shopping tab will consist “primarily” of free listings. It is also working with partners like Shopify to make managing this new option part of its offering.

A similar move stateside earlier this year drove a 50% increase in clicks and more than doubled impressions for advertisers.

Google says it trying to address the “significant” multi-year trend towards increasing consumer adoption of ecommerce, which has typically lagged in Canada compared to the rest of the world. “We have seen as much ecommerce growth in the last six months as in the prior ten years,” Bill Ready, Google’s president of commerce, tells strategy. “This has benefited retailers from the largest to the smallest and everything in between.”

Ready says before the big e-comm surge, marketers at large organizations would’ve been thinking about which aspects of inventory it made sense to bring to Google’s merchant centre for advertising. But with curbside and in-store pick-up options now more available for products that might not have made sense economically to ship – and left out of paid promotion – these products can still be discoverable in a digital environment. If a retailer is offering curbside pickup, for example, this will be discoverable in free and paid listings for merchants.

Before the pandemic, Ready says “maybe 10%” of a typical retailer’s business’ was ecommerce, an opportunity for growth, but hardly a primary focus. Now, he says we are seeing 30% plus happening across sectors.