20 Ways Canadian Online Retailers Can Win Back-To-School Sales

The 2021 back-to-school shopping season is poised to be one of the most successful of recent years for Canadian ecommerce. Canadians are spending more online in Canada, and using the internet as a tool for comparison shopping and bargain hunting.  In fact, 88 percent of Canadians made an online purchase in the past year, according to the CIRA Internet Factbook.

The low Canadian dollar, coupled with the “buy Canadian” mindset of late, is expected to keep more retail sales in Canada this year.

Seven in 10 Canadians say they prefer making online purchases from Canadian retailers when they have a choice,” says CIRA. “That’s up from 68 per cent in 2020 and from 64 per cent in 2019. P.E.I. and Nova Scotia residents are the most likely to play to the home crowd when online shopping, with 79 per cent saying it’s their preference in both provinces.”

Between trade issues, restrictions and the low loonie, you may even bring in some American back-to-school shoppers. Ecommerce brings the World to our doorstep and the low Canadian dollar invites them in.

Canadian Back-to-School Statistics

The most recent data from Statistics Canada shows there were 5,675,691 students enrolled in Canadian public elementary and secondary school programs for the 2018/2019 school year. Canadian households spent an average of $1,691 on education in 2019.

The Retail Council of Canada and Leger studied the regional differences among back-to-school shoppers in Canada in 2020. Quebec shoppers were less likely to purchase school supplies, health-related products, books, movies, and sporting goods online last year, compared to shoppers in the rest of Canada. Shoppers in Ontario are more likely to purchase school supplies online this year.

2020 Back to School Online Shopping

2020 Back-to-School Shopping for Grade/High School Students

  • Sixty-two percent of shoppers expected to spend over $500 on back-to-school college supplies
  • Thirty-eight percent expected to spend less than $500
  • Thirty-eight percent expected to spend $500-$1000

2020 Back-to-School Shopping for College or University Students

  • Fifty-two percent of college/university students expected to spend less than $500 on back-to-school supplies.
  • Thirty-one percent expected to spend $500-$1000
  • Thirteen percent expected to spend $1000-$2000

20 Ways Canadian Retailers Can Win Back-To-School Sales Online

If you haven’t started selling online, NOW is a great time to start. You’ll be positioned to take full advantage of the back-to-school season and then go right into the profitable holiday season. Get started with our Checklist: How to Start an Online Store (eCommerce Business) in Canada.

Canadian ecommerce merchants and other online sellers of school supplies, clothing and related technology can use many strategies to offer convenience, add value and reduce price.

  • Optimize your website to ensure Canadians will find you when they’re searching. Remember that Google is now favouring mobile-friendly websites for mobile searches, and more Canadians are searching on their smartphone than ever before. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and employ omni-channel strategies for the most success.
  • We all know why toys are advertised during children’s shows. Promote your best deals and “gotta have it” items on social media because that’s where the kids are.
  • It has become common for parents to hand over their credit card to teens for back-to-school online shopping.  It changes the shopping dynamic when teens hold the credit card. What appeals to them certainly won’t be the same as what appeals to their parents, and they aren’t too keen on store loyalty. They want what teens have always wanted: the cool stuff of the moment. Give them a new twist on that cool item to catch their attention. If you want to reach teens it’s important to be present on social media, both for campaigns and for customer support.
  • Engage those mommy/family bloggers! We have a list of Popular Canadian bloggers to get you started.  Influencer marketing has proven to be the most cost-effective, successful tool in today’s marketing tool box. You can target virtually any demographic with a level of precision that other marketing channels can’t touch. Additionally, increased conversions and brand exposure can continue to benefit your business beyond the end of your actual campaign.
  • Bonus items are always popular, such as a hot back-to-school item free with purchase, or a freebie with purchases over a certain dollar amount, BOGO (buy one, get one free), and so on.
  • Contests can bring back-to-school shoppers to your site and social media pages. Designer backpacks, tablets, and “win your purchase” are just a few possible prizes. Allow bonus entries for social media sharing.
  • Online discounts and coupons (or printable coupons if you have an offline store).
  • Promote or start a loyalty or reward program. “Retailers that offer loyalty or reward programs offer an added bonus to students and parents who are looking to get the most of their money,” suggests Mike Bonner, Vice President, Commercial Banking, GTA Division, Bank of Montreal.
  • Feature price-matching policies prominently.
  • Make it clear that you are located in Canada and clearly label products made in Canada. Encourage shoppers to shop Canadian and buy local. Reach out to American shoppers looking to get a deal on Canadian dollar purchases. Seventy-two percent of Americans say they’re willing to purchase online from Canada (more than any other country), according to a Bronto Ipsos survey, but only 20 percent have actually done so.
  • Stock unique or novelty items that Canadian kids “just gotta have” and promote them like crazy so parents searching for specific products will find you.
  • Bundle back-to-school products for convenient online shopping and offer a great deal on these packages. That could be anything from one-click “basics” purchases, to trending theme bundles like Space Jam and Black Widow theme school supplies.
  • Offer assurance to online Canadian shoppers by providing a guarantee. If possible, allow returns to an offline store.
  • Offer gift cards or certificates for parents to give to older children and university students. Make it easy with instant email delivery.
  • A very effective and efficient way to get in front of thousands of online back-to-school shoppers is to start an affiliate program through a network. You’ll quickly build an online sales force and you’ll only pay when they send you a sale.
  • If you’re an affiliate marketer or blogger, you can feature back-to-school sales and coupons from your favourite merchants through networks (like Share-A-Sale).
  • It’s a fantastic time of year to get into drop shipping, which requires no inventory and allows you to have purchases shipped all over the World if you want to. You can be up and running in time to cash in on back-to-school shopping and you’ll be ready for holiday shoppers.
  • Consider selling products to bargain-hunting Canadians via online marketplaces.  While the environment is more competitive, it will allow you to take advantage of the massive traffic these sites get.
  • Donate a portion of profits during August/September to a Canadian-run education or other child-related charity. Shoppers love to help causes while buying items they need anyway. Plus, many charities promote their benefactors online.

??? Are you targeting online back-to-school shoppers in Canada in 2021? Please share your ideas or questions in the comments below or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.


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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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This information is very eye opening. I got school details from https://schooldirect.org/canada/ but it seems like most schools are closed at the moment and no responses.


This is great advice, thank you for the continued nudges and ideas!!

S. Timmins

I’m officially blown away by everything you’ve thought of for us to try. We’l be selling online by the holidays and it’s scary but exciting. I can’t wait to see what difference it makes to our sales numbers by the end of the year. Your info really helps… thank you so much.

Kade L.

Seriously great effort here. Thanks for sharing ecommerce tips they really help.

Leonna Jackson

Awesome insights! Ecommerce could really fly in Canada but I think most stores have alot to learn yet. I work for a small boutique and have been trying to talk them into an online store for a couple of years. They’re petrified of it but I think they’re finally considering it.