Note to Canadian Retailers – I'll Pay US prices if that's ok with you

Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti, his article on the Globe and Mail’s website today really hits home.

A more valuable currency should make the things we buy from other countries cheaper. But, over the past five years, as the value of the Canadian dollar has appreciated against the American dollar, that has not been what’s happened. Canadian retailers have not lowered their prices — instead, they have used the rising dollar to gain excessive profits at the expense of consumers and the whole economy.
[full story at the Globe and Mail]

And right now, this failure to reflect the strong Canadian dollar is really obvious.

However, things have changed the last few years. More and more of us are buying a lot of our consumer and small business goods online.

When there is such a great disparity between the price at retail in Canada, and the same article in the US dollars, it’s up to us to act. And guess what ? The internet is there once again to level the playing field in a big way. Not only can you comparison shop, you can buy online and in a lot of cases, get shipping for free.

But the good retailers, the smart retailers, are actually going out of their way to treat their customers differently. A couple of weeks ago, Craig Strong at Oakwood Broadcast in Winnipeg emailed me (and I’m assuming all their customers, I’m not that special) to point out a number of items that are substantially cheaper, due to the strong dollar. And he says, more price drops to come. Not only is that good business, that’s good customer relations, and he’ll continue to get my loyalty even though he’s 2 provinces away from me.

And today, I went into Steveston Marine to ask them about the price on an Andersen winch for my sail boat. Their web site lists the winch at 699.00 Canadian.

But wait, when I check West Marine’s web site, the same winch is 447.99 U.S.

Hmmm. Even with shipping, I am way ahead buying it from a US company.

And guess what ? Steveston Marine proved how good a retailer they are and matched the price – and in so doing made the sale. And, I suspect, are still are making a decent profit.

So, what to do ? Well, do your homework. It’s hard to argue with a 250.00 difference in price. Or a 25 dollar difference for that matter. Good retailers will do what they can – keep in mind that some of them are getting squeezed by their suppliers.

I’d much rather buy local if I can, so I try to get my local suppliers to at least match pricee (or get close enough). If they won’t budge, take your money and go to where the deal is. FedEx and the internet have made ‘mail order’ cool again.

With some products, its a no-brainer. You know what it is and ordering ‘from away’ is painless.

And some things will surprise you.

I buy all my photo-printing inkjet paper direct from Epson online. I originally went there because I could never get the paper I wanted here at retail. Sometimes Staples would have it, other times not, and the same with London Drugs. What I discovered with Epson is that the paper price is the same or lower than at the local store, and Epson ships for free. Not only that, but ordering paper and ink from them online is way easier than actually finding it at my local Staples. So, I get the stock I want, delivered to my door in a couple of days.

At the end of the day, its up to us to make sure we get a fair deal. If Canadian retailers are guilty, as Ken Georgetti claims, of “greed, gouging and bad citizenship” then us consumers are somewhat complicit because we’ve let them get away with it. Getting the best price is work and takes a bit of advance planning. But I can assure you, you’ll discover who’s a great retailer really quickly when you start asking them to ‘adjust’ their prices.

2 thoughts on “Note to Canadian Retailers – I'll Pay US prices if that's ok with you”

  1. It’s not just about less expensive goods Stateside. It’s about a whole lot more than that. The recent parity of North American currencies has simply exposed the fact that clothing sold in Canada, when compared with clothing sold in the USA, all of Europe, cities in East and South Asia, major South American cities, and some Arabic cities, is simply not desirable in terms of its selection and fashionability.

    I can find this season’s fashion almost anywhere in the world but never in Canadian cities barring the odd lucky find in Toronto or Montreal. The situation here is so dire in terms of shopability and variety that just taking a trip to Budapest, or any tiny market town in France, or Mumbai, feels like London or NYC to me because the selection of clothing in even these non-fashio places is so superior to that of Canada. Living in Canada, the only way I can dress in a modern ethos is to travel or shop online.

    We are so smugly behind the times here! We know almost nothing about being stylish because our fashion industry is run by retailers, importers, distributors and textile manufacturers who don’t care to innovate and keep up with worldwide trends, Retailers brazenly tell us that last year’s goods, or 4-year old dresses blatantly marked as “New Season” are good enough for ‘us’, and yet these goods are tagged with this year’s prices!

    I had great hopes when the Danish firm, “H&M”, the Spanish firm, “Zara”, and the English “Accessorize” set up branches in Canada. But the Canadians who run these branches select the most boring and cheapest of these stores’ fabulous stock! (One of the greatest forms of culture shock I know is this: go to London. Shop at Zara, Stare at their wonderful windows where combinations to die for are changed weekly. Fly to Montreal. Stop at Zara and see the 10 mannequins standing rigid side-by-side, each dressed in black plain pantsuits of nearly the same cut, completely non-individualized. This speaks reams about “Canadian” retailers’ fashion knowledge.)

    Our fashion industry (except for a few small stores and Club Monaco) have made our country a giant dumping ground of goods not wanted elsewhere. Consumers’ ignorance is retailers’ bliss and so there is not effort at all by retailers to educate us on fashion. Shopping here is like walking through a desert without potable water.

    This is the fault of our textile manufacturers who lobby strenuously for high customs’ duties on non-polyester fabrics, of the importers who bring us ends of lots of old goods, of the distributors who have no design knowledge of housewares or clothing; and the retailers who don’t stay abreast of trends and make very poor buying choices. Dollar parity, thus, is but a fly sitting on a cake made with tainted flour.

    Holt Renfrew, at the high end of this market, plays the card, “If you want this or last season’s styles, we will sell you only high-end brands like Prada or Lida Baday. With no significant middle-range market in our country, we must either pay beyond our means for fashion or settle for another pair of jeans. I have no pity for retailers who cry that they paid last spring’s currency. This only shows their inability to adopt to modern buying methods. Methods that are accessible by consumers who condust a little research before buying, and who keep clear notes on sellers and shipping arrangements.

    “Buying Canadian” was a motto once before we realized that we were supporting mediocrity. It’s cheaper and more satisfying to go to Paris or any Italian city for a week to stock up on clothes even with the airfare and a cheap hotel included. Online shopping permits us to buy ‘hot’ fashion brands that have no Canadian distributor because distributors don’t care to learn and don’t give a hoot about what consumers want.

    Canadian retailers saw this coming several years ago but did nothing to compete in terms of quality, design and price. Canadian women are fed up with third-rate choices and boring shopping. (Try asking your best local store for a cardi with ‘lampshade’ sleeves. They haven’t a clue. Ask for “leggings” and they’ll show you a pair of opaque tights. To them, a “pencil skirt” is any skirt that is straight. This is the only country I know that sells cotton sweaters, not wool ones, when the temperature is -30C.)

    Low price is what you ask for when nothing sold is any good, when there is no standard in aesthetics or taste.

    It comes as no surprise to me that when I call American online retailers, their reps often tell me that he has other customers from my town. Consider that some American companies have hundreds of representatives taking our phonecalls from a single location and you get a feel for how many people in Ottawa alone are buying clothing online. Our clothin industry has let us down badly.

    Dear Canadian retailers: Show me in Canada a 12-gauge 100% cashmere knitted dress (fabric manufactured in Italy; item designed and sewn in North America) with this year’s boatneck; long-sleeved; with a 19″ dress length, and in a lipstick red, priced at $192.00, and I might think of exploring our relationship again.

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