Canadian market ripe for U.S. catalogs: Bartlett

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SAN FRANCISCO - An underserved, young market that likes mail and likes to shop online combined with a good, strong economy are just a few of the reasons that U.S. marketers should enter the Canadian retail market. 

These were the key takeaways from a presentation made Oct. 17 at the DMA06 conference and exhibition here by Patrick Bartlett, vice president of the catalog and Borderfree divisions at Canada Post.

"Canada has been on a bit of boom for the last 12 or 13 years," Mr. Bartlett said. "Our unemployment rate is at a 30-year low, the new government has just reduced taxes, and we've had an increase in both real income and disposable income, which basically means we are spending more." 

Mr. Bartlett said the Canadian dollar has performed very strongly over the last few years, "and looks like it will perform strongly for a while yet." Alberta, a province in western Canada, is particularly booming.  "It's growing tremendously," Mr. Bartlett said. "Its retail sales have grown 12 percent. It's just a great place to do business." 

Mr. Bartlett also said Canada is great market for U.S. catalogers to enter because there are currently so few catalogs sent to Canadians. For example, in Canada, there are only 135 major consumer catalog titles as opposed to 13,000 in the United States, he said. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that Canadians don't love catalogs. They do, according to Mr. Bartlett. "We have a long history of buying from catalogs,"

Mr. Bartlett said. "Sears, for example, is the big giant in Canada, and absolutely dominates the space with the big, thick book that is 20 or 30 or 40 years old. They've done a very good job in that space, but they've had very, very little competition. It is a market that is badly underserved." 

In general, Canadians love the mail because they get less mail and value it more.  "The Ikea catalog is a coffee table book here," Mr. Bartlett said.  In addition, he said 84 percent of Canadians open up and read the mail; younger Canadians (18-24) and higher income households ($80,000 or more) welcome all forms of direct mail; and free samples, coupons, promotional items, flyers, and retail catalogers pull higher response rates. 

If you are going to mail into Canada, however, there are certain guidelines to keep in mind. For example, make sure you include Canadian prices in your communications, and make sure to list the true, landed cost that includes things such as Canada customs duties and taxes. 

"If you are going to market to Canadians, make sure you do it right," Mr. Bartlett said. "Make sure people have a proper buying experience, and understand how much people are going to pay for an item when they buy something. Don't give them surprises at the door." He also said it's important to have in-country returns. "They should be able to easily return things, without having to go across the border," Mr. Bartlett said.

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