How USA etailers and advertisers can sell more in Canada

About the author

This article is penned by Emma Kelly, the co-founder of Bargainmoose is one of the largest affiliates/publishers in Canada. It is a Canadian deals community specializing in freebies, coupons, shopping bargains and money-saving advice. Emma has worked in the affiliate marketing space for various companies around the world for the last 10 years.


Tips and Recommendations for US etailers

Recently, the Affiliate Marketing Association of Canada wrote an article here on the upcoming explosive growth of affiliate marketing in Canada, stating that it is one of the fastest growing online marketing strategies. Supporting this information, we’re seeing more and more successful US based stores try and attract business from consumers north of the border. These stores sometimes have great success working with Canadian publishers, but there are also many erroneous assumptions and therefore mistakes made in attempting to grow their online affiliate sales in Canada. The following provides a number of pointers and tips for US retailers help them grow their affiliate and overall sales in Canada.


Clarify Checkout Procedures

This first point is incredibly important. If a US store is going to fulfill Canadian orders through their US based webstore, there are many things that can be done to improve the experience for non-US shoppers.

  1. URL structure – Consider using a sub-domain or a folder on your website, clearly labelled with CA or Canada, so the shopper knows that they’re shopping on the Canadian facing site. This will provide more shopper confidence.
  2. Canadianism – Make sure you’re including the Canadian flag or maple leaf on the Canadian facing portions of the site.
  3. State the currency – Make sure that the currency is readily apparent to shoppers, whether it is US or CA dollars. Shoppers may assume the prices are shown in CA only to be disappointed to go through checkout and see that it is in US, leading to cart abandonment due to differences in exchange rates.
  4. Dedicated help pages – US stores should create dedicated help pages for Canadian customers, clarifying things that may differ from the US shopping experience, such as shipping carriers or returns information.
  5. Shipping info – All the Canadian shipping info must be stated, including; shipping location, ship-to-store options, shipping times, provision at checkout for taxes, customs, duties or additional fees.

Even if the US store is using a dot CA domain to fulfill Canadian orders from US operations, they will still need to follow most of the above pointers. Simply hosting a website on a Dot CA and fulfilling orders in the same manner as the US version will not suffice and lead to lost sales.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Consider site structure, cost clarification & user-friendliness to non-US shoppers.


Keep Shipping Costs Low

If a US store really wants to get a foothold in the Canadian market, it MUST keep shipping charges low, or make shipping completely free, where possible. Shipping fees are one of the most important factors in Canadian purchasing decisions when shopping online. Even if the store has to take a hit on their profit margins, it’s a cost that must be adopted in order to grow the customer base in Canada. The aim should be to build up a loyal Canadian customer base by offering competitive shipping options.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Don’t penalize Canadian shoppers with unfair shipping fees


Check NAFTA Regulations

NAFTA, the North American Fair Trade agreement, is an agreement between the US and Canada which eliminates many barriers to free trade, including certain tariffs. For example, if goods are manufactured in the US, there will be no import duties for those goods to be bought in Canada. This can have a huge effect on the final price that the average Canadian consumer will pay. However, many US retailers are not even aware of the agreement, or realize that it can be hugely beneficial to those who would be eligible.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Check your eligibility for NAFTA and take advantage if appropriate.


Communicate Correct Promos For Canada

A current downfall of many US based affiliate programs comes from their marketing communications with publishers. They group all publishers in one batch and send the same marketing email to all. This frequently means that US promotions are sent out to Canadian publishers, which are not even valid in Canada. Instead of the publisher sifting through hundreds of emails, testing and selecting information, they’re just going to get disenfranchised with the advertiser and not bother sharing any retailer information with their Canadian audience.

Publishers may be affiliated with thousands of stores, so the right messages need to come through in order to have an impact. US based stores must make sure that marketing communications are customized and targeted to the Canadian publishers, ensuring better coverage and guaranteeing greater brand exposure to the Canadian audience.

A number of US affiliates have chosen to set up a separate affiliate program solely for their Canadian publishers so as to try and customize promotions and communications.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Communicate the right offers to Canadian publishers.


Consider Promotional Holiday Differences

Canadian publishers won’t be very interested in deals focused on US based holidays such as Columbus Day,  Independence Day or Veterans Day. Yet US advertisers send them to Canadian publishers all the time. Canadian publishers will be more likely to promote US based stores which make the effort to create themed promos around Canadian events such as Canada day, Quebec’s National Holiday, Canadian Thanksgiving, Boxing day/week, Victoria Day (not important in Quebec) or Family Day (not in Quebec), for instance.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Tailor promotions according to the culture to maximize engagement.


Research & Consider Strategy Changes

Just because a strategy works in the US market does not necessarily mean that success can be replicated in Canada. While the country of Canada is still in the same land mass as the US, certain aspects of the affiliate marketing relationship between publishers and retailers are quite different. Affiliate marketing in Canada in still in its infancy while it’s very developed in the US. This should be taken into account when planning the initial strategy and expansion for other countries. US stores must, of course, do their research and not take it for granted that what works in the US will also work in Canada.

TAKEAWAY TIP: Tailor strategies for different markets.


What Not To Do

When recently having a conversation with a major US based clothing store specializing in women’s plus-size items, they simply couldn’t understand why we didn’t want to promote them in Canada. Here’s why: First of all, their standard Canadian shipping fee was a flat rate of around $13, which is immediately off-putting to any shopper. When doing a test order, an item of clothing at $56 ended up being $86 by the time shipping, duties and taxes were included. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that prices were in US dollars, meaning it costs even more with the Canadian exchange rate. If this store were to execute the following, they would be able to partner with more  Canadian publishers:

  • Decrease or abolish shipping rates to Canada
  • Absorb the customs and duties on behalf of the consumer
  • Create a distribution point within Canada

This would make any US store much more competitive in the online Canadian marketplace.


Who Does It Right?

One name instantly jumps to mind when considering a success story about a popular US based retailer expanding into Canada; the popular costume retailer, Costume Supercentre. Having a successful dot com based site, the store was seeing many orders coming from across the border, to be shipped to Canada. In Canada, there isn’t much  competition for online costume stores; one of the notable stores to speak of would be Spirit Halloween, followed possibly by Party City. But place a Canadian order on either of these websites and it will ship from the US, with potential extra duties and taxes to be paid on the consumer’s doorstep!

So Costume Supercentre decided to open a Canadian facing business with a dedicated website and distribution point in Canada. As a result, they are dominating the Canadian online market for costume ware.

You can see immediately that Costume Supercentre’s expansion into the Canadian market was well-planned and considered; from the spelling in the URL (centre, not center) down to making sure that they had Canadian pricing and fast shipping from an effective business hub in Ontario.

TAKEAWAY TIP: If it’s possible, create a distribution point in Canada eliminating any issues with customs and fees, keeping the costs low for online shoppers.



The Canadian consumer is yearning for more shopping choices and opportunities to buy from the diverse providers in the United States. US stores must appreciate the fact that there are differences in culture, behaviours, actions, and shopping patterns from their Canadian neighbours and must adapt accordingly. With Canadian online spend growing year over year, there’s a wealth of opportunity for US based stores to grab a chunk of that growing market share, but only if they plan their expansion in a well thought out manner always keeping the Canadian consumer in mind.


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