To Have and To Hold

At Navigator, research is a big part of everything we do. The best public affairs campaigns are developed on the solid foundation of insightful research results. That’s why we can’t help but admire those clients who take research as seriously we do when it comes down to developing and maintaining their brand.

The Consumer Technology Association recently released their first-ever study of Canadian consumer habits, an in-depth look into how We the North own and think about buying the latest gadgets and electronics on the market. As the Government of Canada wades into a lengthy innovation review and a Canadian content review, such research will be critical to understanding the landscape of how millions of Canadians use consumer technologies as part and parcel of their everyday lives.

Unsurprisingly, Canadians match their American neighbours stride for stride when it comes to ownership of the three screens – smartphones, televisions, and laptops. Canadians have a loving relationship with their smartphones, with 95 per cent saying they plan to purchase another one in the next year — a buyer intent stat that rivals only televisions. Canadians also have a healthy appetite for in-vehicle devices for entertainment and navigation, as well as audio devices like headphones and wireless speakers.

While the study found few significant differences between Canadians’ consumer technology ownership habits and those of their American neighbours, Canadian households were still slower to adopt emerging technologies like drones and smart home devices than U.S. households.

On the surface, slower adoption of emerging technologies among Canadians may be attributed to issues of availability and pricing; most cutting-edge consumer electronics are often launched in the U.S. before they’re expanded to other markets and often at a higher price. Cross-border shopping and e-commerce have gone a long way to bring down barriers to adoption, but at the end of the day, a low Canadian dollar and the exclusivity of some premium services for U.S. markets (case in point, Amazon) will deter many savvy Canadians from actively seeking out and owning the latest technologies.

At the same time, marketers and innovators of these technologies can sometimes forget Canadian consumer habits are not identical to those of Americans. While our neighbours to the South are obsessed with having the latest flat-screen TVs and household gadgets as badges of social status, Canadians are much more focused on holding the things they have when it comes to ownership. Compared to Americans, we tend to seek out the the best deal on the item they want, rather than a specific brand — it’s more about the product itself than the label associated with it. In fact, a 2013 TD Economics report showed Canadian consumers dedicate more of their budget to non-discretionary spending (i.e. the necessities like groceries, rent or mortgage payments) than their American counterparts, who like to spend their budget on more discretionary items (did someone say camouflaged solar panels?).

Nevertheless, underneath our slow adoption trends lies enormous potential for growth, especially for home-grown innovators who are looking to break into both the Canadian and global consumer technology markets. While we might not be focused on a particular brand, we are still seeking new gadgets. On their wishlist this holiday season, many Canadian households say they expect to buy their first set of wireless speakers, curved ultra-HD televisions, and fitness trackers sometime in the next year.

With Canadians already pegged as voracious consumers of digital content, they will continue to rely on and seek out more devices and services that support those needs. It will be up to Canadian lawmakers and cross-border efforts from all the governments involved to help boost access and availability of the technologies that Canadians need most in their day-to-day lives, as well as create an open and competitive environment for innovators at home and abroad.