Google Trends Search Data for Thunder Bay's Online Buying Appetite

As much as we love a good sale and spectacular prices, online shopping is causing a significant impact in Thunder Bay. Studies have shown that e-commerce has seen huge growth in Canada over the past decade, but not just in big cities like Toronto.

One tool I use to measure online buying is Google Trends.

Google Trends provides access to a largely unfiltered sample of actual search requests made to Google. It’s anonymized (no one is personally identified), categorized (determining the topic for a search query) and aggregated (grouped together).

This allows it to display interest in a particular topic from around the globe or down to city-level geography. In this case, we can sometimes see searches related to the City of Thunder Bay.

Google Trends search data is known as Big Data which is "extremely large data sets that may be analyzed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behavior and interactions".

As Ford searches highly correlate with Ford Sales, this indicates that Google searches are a barometer for consumer purchasing decisions. However, you cannot always rely on Google searches for buying as people might use the Amazon app or other options when shopping online, which would make it difficult for Google to capture the data about what people are buying.

Using Google Trends that is normalized on a per capita basis in Canada, for the past 5 years and the last 12 months, at one point, as this changes based on searches, Thunder Bay searched for Wayfair the second most in Canada (see Figure 1).

As of time of writing, Thunder Bay is third in Canada for the last 5 years and the last 12 months. As you can see from the graph below, online shopping is having an effect on smaller towns like Thunder Bay.


For the past 5 years, Thunder Bay searched for Amazon in the top 26th city in Canada. Again, I believe we use the Amazon app a lot! This just shows our interest in online buying! You can quantify what people say on the street and measure it with Google Trends search data. We buy on sites like RockAuto, Ebay, Shein and more!

This is VERY concerning.

Thunder Bay's #ChooseTbayFirst initiative is directly related to phenomena such as Thunder Bay residents buying on Wayfair for instance.

In other words, I believe the city of Thunder Bay has seen its overall economic decline because online retailers are taking dollars away from brick and mortar outlets.

Potential Impacts

Using Googles definition of e-commerce, Digital Vibes has compiled a list of potential impacts:

  1. Indirect impact on local businesses

  2. Jobs lost as a result of online shopping (due to companies closing or jobs moving to online)

  3. Lost revenue due to online shopping in Thunder Bay and the surrounding area being spent elsewhere in Canada or abroad.

  4. Online shoppers are buying from overseas and not paying taxes that could be spent locally.

  5. Online shoppers tend to shop more frequently

To Wrap Things Up

Overall, some may argue that the rise of online shopping has benefited many businesses, but this isn’t necessarily accurate. Brick-and-mortar stores are closing at an alarming rate because owners can’t compete with prices or convenience that come with internet purchasing. As online shopping continues to increase in popularity, many people have chosen to buy clothes, entertainment, and other necessities online instead of at local stores. This leaves Thunder Bay with less economic growth than it should be receiving, and the city will continue facing severe consequences because of this.