FP TECH DESK | Armina Ligaya 

E-commerce is growing steadily in Canada, and with fewer than half of this country’s businesses running websites, there’s still plenty of room for growth — if the barriers to entry can be overcome.

Canadian enterprises saw online sales rise almost 12% last year to $136-billion, according to a Statistics Canada report released Wednesday.

But the rate of businesses going online was stagnant: compared to 2012, the percentage that had a website was virtually unchanged at 46%.

And it was larger businesses that reaped the lion’s share of online sales, at 64% or $87-billion.

Corinne Pohlmann of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says a major barrier, particularly for smaller businesses, was the hefty investment needed to build and maintain a website.

Establishing an online shopping portal — including infrastructure to accept payments and security measures to protect customers’ personal and financial information — is more difficult for a small operation to handle, said Ms. Pohlmann, CFIB’s senior vice-president of national affairs.

In turn, many instead use social media such as Facebook or online shopping portals such as eBay as inexpensive routes to a web presence, she added.

Indeed, more businesses are turning to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Of those that had a website, 38% integrated social media into their digital strategy in 2013, compared to 33% a year earlier.

Medium and large-sized businesses were more likely than small enterprises to cite costs of implementing technology as being too high. However, that may be due to the complexity of larger businesses, Statistics Canada said.

Certain sectors were more likely to set up their own shop online: about 22% of wholesale trade businesses and 18% of retail trade enterprises sold their products and services online, Statistics Canada said.

For those that did sell online, e-commerce accounted for 24% of their total sales.

With cybercrime on the rise, online security is a pressing issue.

More than three-quarters of Canadian businesses used anti-virus and anti-spyware software in 2013, and 62% used a firewall, the report showed. More than half used a spam-filter to block unwanted mail.

But larger businesses were more likely to report an Internet breach.

About 6% of all Canadian businesses said they suffered a security breach, but among large businesses the proportion was 14%.

Ms. Pohlmann says it’s important for Canadian businesses to become more digitally-savvy.

“Going forward, this is the way people will look for businesses… [And] digital technology has been a huge advantage for smaller companies because it allows them to market their products much more broadly.”

Read the original article here: Canada’s small businesses playing catch-up in online retail