How and Why Canada Post is Making Shipping Easier for eComm Businesses
If you have ever been a fan of the American sitcom “Seinfeld”, chances are that you’ll recall a classic scene where Jerry (the main character) argues with a car rental representative over a botched reservation. “You know how to take the reservation,” his exasperated character explains in the encounter, “but you don’t know how to hold the reservation…and that’s really the most important part.” Interestingly enough, this comedic punchline unknowingly echoes the biggest challenge facing eCommerce in Canada: the dire neccessity for online retailers to be able to successfully, painlessly and effectively execute (aka. ship) orders.
In other words: being able to put your shipping where your mouth is.
The reality of online retail is that anyone can promise a consumer a desired product and at a desired price, but unless you can actually get it to them economically, conveniently and in a timely manner… all bets are off. Shipping is where, quite simply, eCommerce gets real.
As anyone involved in Canadian eCommerce can tell you, however, shipping is anything but really simple.
With a population of just under 35 million spread across one of the largest areas any individual country can lay claim to, all conversations in eCommerce inevitably turn to shipping. They have to, however, because it is the single most significant hurdle any aspiring online retail outfit faces in their nerverending quest for revenue, profit and indeed their very survival.
Canada Post: The Hero on the Horizon
At this dark point in our story, enter Canada Post: our country’s largest and most influential postal operator. For years the pervading wisdom among the big players in the postal scene has been to largely ignore eCommerce, or to brush it off with what could generously be called “reserved indifference.” If current shipping practices were good enough for every other business, the logic seems to have gone, then they would be good enough for eCommerce shops. After all, why shouldn’t they be?
This thinking, for too long, has severely hampered Canada’s development in arguably one of the most substantial shifts in the retail industry of the past few decades.
“No longer”, however, is the motto Canada Post has seemed to adopt over the past year and a half. By jumping head first into developing (and integrating) new technologies, expanding their logistical capabilities and proactively reaching out to eCommerce merchants large and small to help make shipping “work”. To that end, Canada Post is helping to turn aside the outdated misconception that the great white north need be a second or third world eCommerce nation any longer. Hopefully this example will inspire their competitors to follow suit… or fall behind into irrelevance.
Bridging the Divide Between Online Retailers and Their Customers
This proactive move to make it more feasible for small companies to get their products to the people who order them makes a great deal of sense when considered carefully. According Anick Losier (Director of Media Relations at Canada Post), residential eCommerce orders accounted for over 8 billion dollars in sales for Canadian businesses last year. Just in case that number wasn’t compelling enough, however, the fact that this number is expected to balloon to over 16 billion by 2016 will certainly do the trick.
“The most important thing is,” Anick explained to me, “that eCommerce is a huge revenue opportunity for everyone involved. Our 20 largest eCommerce partners each grew by 20% last year and we want to make sure they can continue to grow.” Of her company’s commitment to making eCommerce shipping increasingly more feasible, Anick related “it’s important to us, but it’s especially important to small Canadian businesses.”
In chatting with her I was also surprised to learn that 93% of the eComm companies Canada Post works with have fewer than 50 employees. Even more surprising was that 38% had even fewer than five.
Stepping in The Right Direction
At this point I asked Anick how Canada Post was helping to tackle these issues. “Most ecommerce businesses aren’t huge,” she replied, “and they just can’t afford waste. That’s why we’ve made serious structural changes a big priority. We’re gutting the engine and revving it up again. Were building new plants with new equipment and updating old ones to make tracking, processing and execution of deliveries easier and more seamless than ever. No more dated hardware, no more floppy disks. Everything the customer (and retailer) requires is our focus… including mobile capability. This all translates to lower costs for the customer and the eCommerce provider, while also drastically improving delivery time and accuracy.”
Anick also shed light on how tracking has become a touchstone consideration for Canada Post’s new “eComm-centric” strategy. Shipping is no longer about “taking one thing from point A to point B”, she explains, “we are a ‘I want it now’ generation.” In fact, according to Anick the average Canada Post customer checks their website seven times to see where their order is before it’s scheduled to arrive. That certainly explains why improving their tracking is such a big focus right now.
All of this was interesting without a doubt, but when Anick mentioned Canada Post’s upcoming 2012 Canadian eCommerce Innovation Awards my attention was particularly piqued. According to Anick, Canada Post “started the awards to encourage more businesses to build and expand their current eCommerce efforts. We want to show them we’re taking it as seriously as they are, and help them get where they want to be”. As someone who spends a prodigious amount of time sifting through monotonous and redundant articles decrying how “Canada is woefully behind in eCommerce”, initiatives like this particularly appeal to me. Instead of uselessly harping on where Canada isn’t, they push the conversation forward with tangible action that helps move us to where we want to be.”
The Road Ahead
At the end of the day, the fact that Canada Post is paying close attention to eCommerce (and the feasibility of order execution/shipping) is a huge boon for Canada’s emerging online retail sector. As the biggest postal player in Canada, their concentrated focus (as well as the 2012 Canadian eCommerce Innovation Awards) will open doors for new businesses that might previously have been closed while also making it easier for existing retailers to make the digital jump as well.
Years from now, lets hope that future generations can look back on 2011-2012 and recall it as the year the obstacles plagueing eComm shipping in Canada first felt fear.
To find out more about how specific Canadian eCommerce success stories like Well.ca, Beyond the Rack and ShirtPunch.com are working to tackle the “shipping question”, stay tuned to the Dx3 Digest for our ongoing “Made in Canada” series: