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Oh, Canada!

Want to jump into the international market? Meet our friendly neighbor to the north.

Although Canadians still lag a bit behind U.S. consumers when it comes to online shopping, that's starting to change. According to an April J.C. Williams Group survey of Canadians who had shopped online in the past six months, 32 percent made five or more purchases, and 68 percent made one to four purchases. Canadian e-commerce is growing substantially as well, with e-commerce sales totaling $32.4 billion ($39.2 billion CAD) in 2005, up 38.4 percent from 2004.

"U.S. retailers are looking for expansion possibilities internationally, and Canada is a friendly way to test systems and processes in an initial expansion strategy," says Maris Daugherty, senior consultant of multichannel practice at J.C. Williams Group in Chicago. "In addition, U.S. retailers are not too far from home, there is untapped demand in Canada and many Canadian retailers have not yet included e-commerce in their sales channels."

Atlantic Consulting and Sales Inc. in Atlanta has found success selling to the Canadian market. The business runs several wedding-oriented websites, including Wedding Favors to Go and Invitations & More, and expects more than $1.5 million in sales by year-end.

"Many Canadians find our site through Google Canada," says Tom Bianco, 35, who co-founded the business with his wife, Kim, also 35. "There is not really much difference between the brides here and the brides [in Canada] when it comes to planning their weddings. There is just a great demand there." About 15 percent to 20 percent of the company's sales come from Canada.

According to Bianco, one of the best things about shipping to Canada is that UPS Ground delivers there. "And if you do enough business there, UPS offers a discounted customs rate," he adds. Another plus: Banner ad impression rates and pay-per-click rates are about 10 percent to 50 percent lower than in the U.S., according to Bianco.

To design a website that meets the needs of Canadians, use a single e-commerce platform that supports all countries. "The platform should have the ability to be centrally supported with localized content areas and processes defined by country, so the customer can choose their country of preference when they arrive, and it will then be customized by specific cultural options," Daugherty says. "In Canada, that would include language options in French or English, total pricing including sales tax and shipping charges represented in Canadian dollars, and customer service hours that reflect Canadian regions with availability of both English- and French-speaking agents."

Melissa Campanelliis a marketing and technology writer in New York City

Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at mcampanelli@earthlink.net.

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This article was originally published in the November 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Oh, Canada!.

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