Karim Salabi: “Canadians are interested in buying Swiss products online”

The e-commerce market in Canada is prospering, with more than half of all Canadians shopping online today. How can Swiss exporters become part of this e-commerce market, and what challenges do they face in North America? An interview with Karim Salabi, Founding Partner of Ascendis. 

More than half of Canadians have already purchased cross-border products
More than half of Canadians have already purchased cross-border products

Karim Salabi, first of all, is e-commerce a must to be successful in the Canadian market?
Canadians are very digitally savvy. When they are making a purchase, they look on the internet first, regardless of the product category. It is extremely important to offer an e-commerce channel for Canadian consumers. So, it’s very important for Swiss SMEs to develop an e-commerce-strategy that complements their direct-consumer strategy.

More than 50% of Canadians shop online. Do Swiss companies have a chance in this market?
Swiss companies and Swiss brands are extremely well-liked by Canadians. Canadians look for quality, and Swiss brands stand for quality. I truly believe that Canadians will be interested in buying Swiss products directly online through e-commerce stores. 

The main challenge in the Canadian e-commerce market is being able to adapt shipping and service policies to such a large country.

Where do you see concrete potential for Swiss companies?
The Canadian market is strong, especially for high-end, higher-quality and even luxury products. In fact, it’s getting stronger and stronger. Canadian consumers have been accustomed to hearing about Swiss luxury items such as watches and jewelry. But I truly think that their interest could extend across all categories as long as you have a quality product and a strong brand with a compelling story that is different from anything else that Canadians could buy online.

How does the e-commerce market in Canada differ from other countries?
The one thing that really makes e-commerce in Canada challenging is the fact that you have the second-largest country in the world, geographically speaking, and a population of about 34 million people. It is an extremely large country to serve from an e-commerce prospective. The main challenge for Swiss companies will be really being able to adapt their shipping and service policies to such a large country.

What are other challenges for Swiss companies if they want to run an e-commerce shop in Canada? Where are the hurdles?
One of the key challenges is really understanding the Canadian market. The Canadian market is not homogeneous from coast to coast. There are different provinces, as you know Quebec is the French-speaking province. The rest of Canada is English-speaking. If you go from east to west, the shopping habits of Canadians change. The one major challenge is understanding that Canadians can be different. The second one is really logistics. How do you set up your distribution center and your e-commerce fulfillment center to be able to serve Canada, to be able to ship your products and to deliver your orders within a reasonable timeframe? Canadians are great clients, but they are also demanding clients. They expect that when they buy a product it is shipped to them relatively quickly. The challenges are really the logistics and the geographic size. But these are all things that can be overcome with the right partners in Canada.   


What effort must companies expect if they want to run an e-commerce shop?
First of all, it is important that if the brand is not familiar to Canadians, companies need to start thinking about how they are going to introduce their brand to Canadians. How are they going to create awareness for their products or services? Second, it is important to build a team of e-commerce experts and digital experts who can help you develop the customer base and the market and who can help you convert interested shoppers into eager buyers.

What mistakes are often made regarding the Canadian e-commerce market? 
The classic mistake is thinking that the Canadian market is one big market. Again, there are some geographic differences, and there are differences from province to province. Good marketers need to understand how to adjust their messages, marketing and advertising tactics and how to take into account those regional differences. I’ll give you one example. Markets like Toronto and Vancouver have very strong ethnic populations from Asia. Targeting and serving a market that has a very strong Chinese or Indian population requires a different approach then if you are selling to a market that is 100 percent native Canadians. So, it is very important for a marketer to recognize those differences and adjust their marketing and acquisitions strategies to be successful in those types of markets.

About Karim Salabi

Karim Salabi is a leader, innovator and advisor who has made his mark in the fields of business and marketing. He has over 25 years’ experience in the retail and consumer products, telecommunications, technology solutions and professional services sectors. An expert in digital transformation of businesses, Karim has a thorough understanding of how information technology can be used to develop and implement innovative and sustainable growth strategies.

About Ascendis

In the hyper-connected world, new trends emerge daily and come into play at an unprecedented pace. It is both a threat and an opportunity. Ascendis was born from the desire to help organizations stand out and does this by strategic and economic development plans. It also does this by optimizing organizational efficiency and via performing marketing activities. The consultants are senior leaders and experts in their field. Ascendis supports companies of all sizes and in all industries that are facing the challenge of building strong brands and vying to creatively push the boundaries of their markets.


Export to Canada

If you would like to further evaluate the opportunities related to the Canadian e-commerce market without any further obligations, please get in touch with our S-GE Consultant for Canada, Annina Bosshard.


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