Online Grocery Shopping Gains Ground on Brick and Mortar Stores


A generation of young and more engaged digital shoppers is transforming the retail landscape yet again. The Canadian online grocery market is at just 2 percent – far behind the US and the UK – but it’s showing enough promise for several brick-and-mortar stores to go digital. Loblaw recently announced it’s closing some physical stores and introducing home delivery in Toronto, while Walmart is expanding its current home delivery services.

Should brick-and-mortar stores switch to e-commerce and what challenges are ahead of them if they do?

The changing landscape of Canadian grocery shopping

On average, Canadians are less likely to shop online than consumers in other countries. Globally, 70 percent of shoppers prefer to get their groceries by visiting physical stores. In Canada, that number is 81 percent. Among many reasons why Canadians prefer picking up groceries in person are lower cost and the logistic difficulties of scheduling the home delivery.

But with an overworked and digital-savvy population, Canadian cities are seeing a growth in online grocery shopping. Home delivery is already prominent in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto 

The main reason for switching to online grocery shopping is convenience. In big cities like Toronto, where 28 percent of households don’t own a car, getting heavy groceries home can be tough. The environmentally-conscious urban population relies heavily on public transport and cycling, increasing the need for delivery when it comes to bulkier items.

Online shops are also tempting customers with special discounts and promo codes. Online-only offers might help to battle the preconception that online shopping is more expensive than buying in physical outlets. Especially that comparing product prices between online outlets is easier than going door to door in person.

E-commerce businesses face security risks

While setting up an e-commerce business is relatively easy these days, keeping it safe from cybercriminals is not. E-commerce sites are a popular target of attacks and cybersecurity remains the biggest challenge for online retailers.

Even the market leaders don’t always succeed to keep their data secure. Target had more than 110 million of its customers’ credit card and contact information compromised in what was one of the biggest data breaches in the 21st century, while Adobe lost the source code for several of its products to hackers. In 2018, as many as 45 percent of American companies were hit with a ransomware attack. The average cost of ransom and work-loss was $900,000.

For a small business, a major data breach could mean going out of business. Not only are there huge costs involved in sealing a breach or paying ransom to recover lost files and code. Perhaps more importantly, the bad press following a hacking incident can cause the customers to switch over to a competitive e-retailer. But there are actions e-commerce sites can take to minimize the risk of a data breach.

How to protect an e-commerce site


HTTPS (short for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol Secure) is the new and secure version of HTTP, the system used to send information between a web browser and website. Unlike HTTP, HTTPS encrypts browsing data, making it much harder for hackers to steal information online.

This is particularly important for conducting online transactions. When customers make an online purchase, data is passed between several computers and can easily be intercepted. Using HTTPS for an e-commerce site protects shoppers from having their personal information stolen.

There’s an added benefit to using HTTPS over HTTP. Google prefers secure websites and will always rank an HTTPS-encrypted site higher. Promoting cybersecurity pays off with a ranking and traffic boost.

Invest in reliable cybersecurity software

Good antivirus software is crucial for any business. Antivirus is an important layer of protection against ransomware, trojans, worms, and other forms of malware.

There is no question that malicious files will occasionally find their way onto company devices, whether it’s through a security vulnerability or simply a click-happy employee. When it does happen, it’s important to have software that can detect, stop, and remove the threat before it can do any damage.

Another essential piece of software is a VPN, especially if a business has employees working remotely. Short for Virtual Private Network, VPN encrypts Internet traffic and establishes a secure connection between the user’s device and the server. This prevents third parties such as the Internet Service Provider, advertisers, governments, or criminals from snooping on the user’s browsing activities.

Remote workers might rely on public Wi-Fi, which is often unencrypted and exposes users to extra security threats. Equipping these employees with a VPN is especially important for data security.

Promote cybersecurity hygiene

Advanced software is not enough if the employees don’t know basic cybersecurity principles. Training new hires and constantly updating the cybersecurity knowledge of existing employees is an essential part of securing an e-commerce business.

This might involve training staff on how to create strong passwords, educating them on how to identify phishing attacks and other threats, and ensuring compliance with IT regulations, such as enabling two-factor authentication for all accounts.

Going forward

The online grocery market in Canada might be behind other developed countries but it’s certainly picking up speed. For those who decide to pioneer home delivery, there will be plenty of opportunities to grow their business.

However, traditional grocery retailers need to be aware that the e-commerce industry is very different from what they’re used to. Poor security can break a small to medium business, meaning that cybersecurity should be a top priority right alongside the delivery and storage logistics. Newcomers to the e-commerce sphere will need to learn fast to succeed in the online world.