The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the utility of digital technology use among Canadian businesses. The Survey of Digital Technology and Internet Use (SDTIU) 2021 measures these new realities, including increased web presences of Canadian businesses (e.g., websites), increased e-commerce sales, increased teleworking and increased adoption of information and communication technologies (e.g., cloud computing, Customer Relationship Management software).

In addition, shifts during the pandemic towards increasing use of digital technologies may represent permanent changes for some businesses. According to the Canadian Survey on Business Conditions (CSBC) conducted in the second quarter of 2021, 19% of businesses reported they were likely going to permanently increase their online sales capacity once the pandemic ends.

Canadian businesses gross $398 billion in e-commerce sales in 2021
In 2021, Canadian businesses with five or more employees grossed $398 billion in e-commerce sales, roughly 30% higher than in 2019. This also marked a nearly four-fold increase in e-commerce sales over the past decade, when sales reached $106 billion in 2012.

Industries with a greater amount of business-to-business transactions dominated e-commerce sales. The manufacturing sector accounted for nearly one-quarter of all e-commerce sales ($105 billion), followed by wholesale trade ($77 billion) and transportation and warehousing ($51 billion). In addition, the retail trade sector grossed $35 billion in e-commerce sales over the same period, an increase of nearly 60% since 2019 ($22 billion).

One-third of Canadian businesses have e-commerce sales in 2021
One-third (33%) of Canadian businesses had at least some e-commerce sales in 2021, marking an increase from 2019, when one-quarter (25%) received or made sales of goods or services over the Internet.

Canadian businesses of all sizes saw an increase in e-commerce in 2021, both in terms of the percentage of businesses that had e-commerce sales, as well as the average e-commerce sales grossed. Most notably, this growth was greatest for small businesses, where 41% more small businesses sold online in 2021, and had an average increase of roughly 65% in e-commerce sales compared with 2019.

Use of various information and communication technologies grows in 2021
Beyond the growth in e-commerce, the pandemic has emphasized the need to use digital technologies. As such, in 2021, more Canadian businesses used information and communication technologies (ICT) (85%) compared with 2019 (80%). Some of the most used technologies were company-wide computer networks (53%), industry specific software (46%) and Internet-connected smart devices (22%).

One of the most used ICTs in 2021 was cloud computing, with 45% of Canadian businesses using the technology, marking an increase of 6% from 2019. In addition, businesses using cloud computing technologies reported spending, on average, $43,000 in 2021, an increase of roughly $15,000 from 2019. On average, large businesses spent $558,000, medium-sized businesses spent $44,000 and small businesses spent $8,800 on cloud computing in 2021.

One-third of Canadian businesses offer their employees the option to telework in 2021
33% of Canadian businesses offered some or all their employees the option to telework in 2021, an increase of 14% since 2019. 74% of large businesses allowed teleworking in 2021, compared with 53% of medium-sized and 27% of small businesses.

While businesses are allowing employees to telework, there is an anticipation that some employees will be asked to return to the office as pandemic restrictions are lifted. According to the CSBC, in the third quarter of 2021, the percentage of the workforce anticipated to continue to primarily telework once the pandemic is over was 28%.

One-tenth of Canadian businesses employ information and communications technology specialists; roughly the same proportion as in 2019
10% of Canadian businesses employed one or more ICT specialists in 2021, similar to the proportion in 2019 (9%). Among these businesses, ICT specialists represented, on average, 7% of their workforce.

Web presence rises slightly in 2021 for Canadian businesses; businesses spend roughly $6.5 billion for online advertisements
89% of Canadian businesses had at least one type of web presence in 2021, marking a 4% increase from 2019. These web presences include company websites (78%), social media accounts (61%) or email marketing (19%). Among businesses with a company website, 59% had a website optimized for use on a mobile device.

Being measured for the first time by SDTIU, Canadian businesses spent roughly $6.5 billion for online advertisements in 2021. While no comparisons to 2019 can be done directly on total spending on advertising, slightly more Canadian businesses indicated they used paid online advertising in 2021 (24%) compared with 2019 (23%). The most widely used types of paid online advertisements were social media ads (82%), search engine optimization (46%) and pay per click (44%).

Source: StatsCan