Canadian buyers expect reasonable payment terms, sophisticated or cutting-edge technologies, on-time delivery, and competitive pricing and quality. After-sales service and support and training are also important to Canadian enterprises. Most conventions that apply in business culture in the United States apply in Canada. These conventions include setting up meetings in advance, being prepared, arriving on time, and wearing appropriate business attire.
It is important to treat Canada as a unique market. Understanding Canada’s culture, history, and geography will be helpful for developing business relationships.
U.S. companies, particularly small and medium-sized firms, must demonstrate credibility and a long-term commitment to the market. Making frequent reference to well-known and established clients, as well as identifying positive economic or environmental implications for Canada during sales presentations, will resonate strongly with Canadian counterparts. Identifying the sustainable aspects of a product is also a crucial selling point in Canada. The information can include the use of recycled materials, organic content, sustainable production techniques, and use of local production.
Trade Promotion & Advertising
A crucial factor in promoting manufactured products as well as related professional services in Canada is to develop and maintain a sales-oriented corporate website. The website needs to identify your firm’s products and services; comparative advantages over competitors; technical specifications; examples or testimonials of your firm’s clients; and contact information for sales and service. Be mindful of Canada’s requirements for bilingual French/English messaging.
Firms may broaden their visibility and sales through participation in U.S. pavilions at major Canadian trade shows, and through participation in U.S. Department of Commerce trade missions to Canada.
Small and mid-sized U.S. consumer goods manufacturers entering the Canadian market should focus on developing a strong web presence. Traditional mass market Canadian advertising (newspapers, TV, and radio) is costly, with ethnically diverse and geographically dispersed audiences.
According to Statista.com’s report on daily newspaper publishers 2010-2022, in 2022, there were 76 paid and free daily newspapers held by ownership groups in Canada, the majority of which were accounted for by Postmedia Network Inc. /Sun Media/Brunswick News with 37 papers. Meanwhile, second-ranked ownership group Torstar Corporation held seven newspapers. In 2022, Canada’s daily newspaper circulation (paid and free) stood at 16.1 million copies over the course of a week. Tabloid publications were the most widely distributed newspaper format in Canada that year, accounting for 67% of all newspapers in circulation.
Television and Radio
- The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation / ICI Radio-Canada: Canada’s national public broadcaster. CBC carries news and entertainment programming nationwide on radio and television in English and French, as well as in eight indigenous languages, and operates internationally in nine languages.
- CTV: Canada’s largest private broadcaster, offering news and entertainment programming on two English language channels.
- Global Television: Broadcasts nationwide on one English language channel.
- TVA: Broadcasts in French, countrywide.
Commercial television stations in Canada carry a large amount of U.S. programming including popular dramas, sitcoms, and major sporting events, but show local commercials. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires that U.S. networks simultaneously substitute Canadian commercials over U.S. commercials during their programs. Beginning in February 2017, Canadian viewers were able to watch American ads on the American channel airing the Super Bowl. However, following a 2019 Supreme Court of Canada decision, Canadian ads will now be broadcast by Canadian channels and also shown on Super Bowl American broadcaster. American ads might be aired on Canadian channels that hold the broadcasting rights as U.S. companies can buy advertising time in Canada for this highly watched sporting event.
Canada’s remaining independent stations are mostly community-oriented specialty stations. Radio advertising is largely local.
The most popular sites in Canada are major international sites such as Google, YouTube, Reddit, Amazon.ca, and Wikipedia. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are the most-used social media platforms in Canada. Approximately a quarter of Canadians say they use social media to find inspiration for products to purchase.
End-user prices of U.S. products and services to Canadian customers, in Canadian dollars, are substantially affected by the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar. The last time the Canadian dollar was at parity with the U.S. dollar was in February 2013.
Canadian buyers are price-sensitive; therefore, U.S. companies should research competitors’ prices and wholesale distribution margin models within their industry and be prepared to negotiate on price to win contracts while offering attractive margins to all parties. U.S. companies should also publish price lists in Canadian dollars.
Sales Service/Customer Support
Canadian customers, whether corporate or individual, demand high-quality sales service and after-sale customer support. Corporate clients often expect the U.S. seller to have an agent or distributor whom they can contact immediately if any problems arise. Like their counterparts in the United States, Canadian customers expect fast service and emergency replacement if required.
A U.S. company entering Canada should evaluate its system of after-sale service and support in the U.S. market and replicate that network as closely as possible in the Canadian market. Many U.S. companies have found that establishing a toll-free telephone number that services both Canada and the United States is useful in maintaining contact with customers. If possible, sales and service should be handled within Canada. It can be expensive and time-consuming to handle product returns, exchanges, and warranty repairs cross-border due to the customs documentation required. Be mindful of Canada’s requirements for bilingual French/English messaging.
Local Professional Services
Canada’s major cities boast an array of high-quality professional services firms catering to both large and small international companies. Prices for services vary greatly and are often higher than in the United States. Leading professional associations in Canada include:
- American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham)
- Biotechnology Innovation Organization
- Canada Corporations Act
- Canadian Bar Association
- Canadian Franchise Association
- Canadian Lawyer Listing
- Canadian Society of Professional Engineers
- Chartered Professional Accountants Canada
U.S. companies can also refer to Commercial Service Canada’s website for a list of Business Service Providers.
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
There are six sectors (telecommunications, cultural industries, broadcasting, transportation services, uranium production, and financial services) for which the acquisitions of Canadian businesses by non-Canadians are subject to review under the Investment Canada Act, and that have sector-specific legislation and/or foreign ownership restrictions. There are also limitations on the sale of weapons and drugs in the Canadian market. U.S. goods must comply with all relevant Canadian legislation and regulations. Additional information can be found at:
- Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
- Health Canada Food and Drug Act
- Library of Congress (Firearms Canada)
- Canada Firearms Act