More Canadians are shopping online, with sales in 2007 rising to $12.8 billion, according to a Statistics Canada report released Monday.
Statistics Canada's last e-commerce study, conducted in 2005, found Canadians spent $7.9 billion online — meaning the value of online shopping rose 62 per cent in two years.
"More than 8.4 million Canadians aged 16 and over made an online purchase in 2007, up from nearly 6.9 million in 2005," the federal agency said in a release. "They accounted for 32 per cent of Canadians in this age group, compared with 28 per cent in 2005."
Consumers in the 25 to 34 age bracket shopped online the most, with 51 per cent reporting placing an online order. Regionally, Alberta led the country with half its internet users aged 16 and up reporting shopping online in 2007.
The increase in part may be related to consumers' growing familiarity with online shopping, said Ed Strapagiel, a retail analyst with the Toronto-based Kubas Consultants who was not involved in the Statistics Canada study.
Strapagiel also said that in the two years since the last Statistics Canada e-commerce study, there has been an increase in the number of retailers offering online shopping.
"I would call that on track," he said, noting e-commerce only accounts for a small percentage of total shopping activity.
Many consumers browsing online
Statistics Canada also reported 43 per cent of Canadians used the internet to research potential purchases, including consumer electronics, housewares, furniture, clothing, jewelry and accessories.
Of the shoppers who looked online, 64 per cent said they later went to a traditional bricks-and-mortar store to purchase the product.
About half of all Canadians said they were concerned about using their credit cards online because of security concerns. Among Canadians who were already online shoppers, 34 per cent said they were apprehensive about using their credit cards.
Strapagiel said the uncertain economy may prompt consumers to research online, seeking information on both products and prices. He also said e-commerce might make advances this holiday season if retailers put products on sale exclusively online.
"Much of the merchandise that is going to be in stores this Christmas has already been bought; the truck's already arrived at the warehouse," he said.
"But it was bought in a climate of [optimism] and in October that reversed very sharply. I think many retailers might be thinking in terms of let's get rid of what we have and not get stuck with the inventory. So there might be, for people who shop around there, might be some good deals to be had."
Canada a testing ground for U.S. retailers
Similarly Jim Okamura, a U.S.-based analyst with J.C. Williams Group, forecasts online shopping to continue to grow in the coming months, despite the economic slowdown.
"We're still expecting the online channel to be one of the few bright spots within retail," he said. "The greater effort by retailers, both Canadian and U.S., to target those Canadian consumers are in our estimation going to work well … I think clearly shoppers are going to be using the web in general for both research and transacting because they're obviously going to be very value-conscious."
He also noted many U.S. retailers use the Canadian market as a strategic e-commerce testing ground before moving on to the European and Asian markets.
"It is in a sense disproportionate, the amount of focus being placed on Canadian e-commerce market entries, because it's more than just the volume of business that the Canadian has to offer, it has much more strategic importance in a broader international strategy," he said.