TORONTO – Tamir Bar-Haim was nervous about continuing his career in Toronto after working out of Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. Canada was home, and the idea of relocating his family was enticing. Trying to innovate the e-commerce market north of the border, however, was not.
“I was worried that driving innovation here would be more difficult and that things here moved to slowly. I thought I would be asked to execute plans that someone else had already drawn up,” the head of Amazon’s advertising business in Canada told a packed hall at Dx3’ Canada’s opening keynote in Toronto.
“You can’t blame me for thinking this way because at the time, my frame of reference in 2007, was that Amazon.ca was essentially a site that sold books and DVDs.”
Fast forward to 2017, and based on the numbers, e-commerce’s popularity in Canada is growing, but slowly. While e-commerce sales increased 19.4 per cent in October, compared to a year earlier, it still only accounted for just nearly three per cent of overall retail sales, according to Statistics Canada.
But Bar-Haim was still pleasantly surprised by what he found in Toronto. Amazon in Canada was selling just about everything, from diapers to musical instruments. Amazon programs he fell in love with south of the border, such as Amazon Prime, Family and Subscribe and Save, were all available here. Now Amazon has more than 8,000 employees in the country, and it recently launched Alexa and Echo devices, Prime Music, and more. Canadian customer behaviours are changing quickly, he said, and businesses, big and small, have to be ready to innovate if they haven’t already, because more than 20 million Canadians will shop online this year.
“That’s 80 per cent of the internet population,” he said.
In January alone, he noted, 45 per cent of Canadians visited Amazon’s website on a mobile device.
This doesn’t mean the brick and mortar stores are a thing of the past, but their growth is slowing down to a crawl. Bar-Haim said by 2021, brick and mortar growth will hit 0.5 per cent, compared to a 3.6 per cent projected growth for 2018. He pointed to recent success stories such as the rise of Bai Brands, a beverage company that nobody knew about four years ago. This year, they had a commercial spot during this year’s Super Bowl.
“They didn’t take a conventional path to success,” he explains, pointing to the fact that they couldn’t afford to put themselves into physical stores. But once Bai built up its brand recognition – with the help of Amazon and some clever push notifications for reviews of Bai products – they placed a greater focus on the customer’s convenience and their time.
“It’s going to be those businesses that create those simple, streamlined experiences that are ultimately going to win,” he said.
AR marketing is here
Amazon recently launched AR View in the U.S., which allows users to preview how a product will look in their home through their phone, prior to hitting the purchase button.
“Home and kitchen products can be hard to sell,” said Bar-Haim.
But AR is the perfect tool to get around that, and he expects that AR View, along with many other updates to Amazon’s services, will make its way to Canada very soon. The entrepreneurial spirit at Amazon and across Canada is strong, said Bar-Haim.
“Canada is the perfect place to drive innovation,” he said. “All the misconceptions I had about Canada can be flipped around. Yes, we have smaller teams but that means we have far fewer stakeholders that we need to drive alignments with. Canadian customers share so many characteristics with not only Americans but also customers around the world. Which means what works really well here … we can package that together, scale it and have an impact well outside our borders.”