Yesterday I was asked to travel across for the border with my friend who loves to shop. A seasoned world shopper, he is the type of person that scours the Intranet, news papers and radio for deals anywhere he can get one. He saves, listens and plans to the last detail on anything that he wants. Whether from a large ticket item, or just a box of soup, the routine is the same.
The mission for yesterday was simple: gas, boxing day sales and clothing. Buying gas in the USA is a no-brainier because their gas prices are less taxed than Canada’s. Actually when you drive a humongous SUV like my friend’s, filling it up with gasoline is a big deal. Buying it at $0.70 per litre is a far cry from buying it at the Metro Vancouver prices of a $110.0 per litre. Naturally you want to stock up on it too, so he had a spare tank installed last year, and he can make that fill-up last a whole month now. He drives a lot. Then there was the boxing day sales. The Americans are hurting, and as such, prices are literally rock bottom as their economy is still falling into chaos. As my friend put it, “when you start buying, you have to loose your sense of reason and start to think like an American when searching, and only then will you start to find those deals.” We went to a computer store just North of Everett Washington, and he purchased a very nice lap-top for less then $350.00 CND, about same type of computer as a $1400.00 unit at Future-shop here in Langley City. On our way back to Canada, he stopped at a Mall near Blaine, Washington, where there was a clothing store that was having huge discount price sale on everything from men’s suites, jeans to jackets, and he hoarded up. A pair of jeans were going for $5.99 each—and they were not those big-box store knock-offs either—all Red-Tab Jeans!
Now the next step was getting the almost $4000.00 worth of stuff into Canada. In that same Mall there is a brokerage company that deals particularly with Canadian shopper’s. For a small fee, and I do not know how much, you can pay them to do the brokerage and shipping for you so that your goods will cross the broader without fail. They handle everything from customs, right down to the logistics. Usually within forty-eight hours they will have your stuff inside Canada waiting for you to pick them up. When in Canada, you sign some papers, give them money, fill out the decelerations, and you are set. Everything is paid for, the Man on both sides of the boarder, and the middle men are taken care of before you leave for home.
It was explained to me that cross boarder shopping is only worth it if you are planing large buys. If you are one of those people who only spends about $400.00 down there, then you might as well stay home and buy it at Canadian prices because you are not saving that much, if anything, including your time.
Now for me, I was just there for the ride. But what I saw in the US made me really think about the state of the global economy, and Canada’s growing, yet very fragile, small economy, and I did some contrast and comparisons from looking out the window as we drove around. For every one billboard in Canada, there are least ten per mile of road in the US. I read a local new paper in Everett, and it might as well have been a twenty page flyer instead of a news paper. One of the public schools I saw had a ad banner promoting the football team with a food and beverage logo around it, and it was at least ten metres across. (I’m glad schools are at least “ad free” here in Canada, though I suspect that will change very soon.) I saw very few people smiling down there as I walked along with my friend into the shops and Malls. And the homeless rate in Washington State looks to be about the same as it is in the Lower Mainland.
I did not buy anything on this trip. I was just keeping the seat warm and being company as we waited in the line up at the boarder and the rest of the trip. The total trip was about ten hours, so a good day, and I had fun seeing the new sights.
I have a warning for Canadian retailers and the Canadian government at all levels. Watch out if you are planning on inflating prices and taxes. Shopping like this from the US is way too easy. Canada will have to make shopping in the US illegal, or put severe controls on cross-boarder shopping, if Canada wants to continue cranking up the cost of living. Consumers are going to find the best bang for their buck anyway they can, and from what I saw down in the USA, they want our money and they are making it very easy for us Canadians to go there and shop. With our dollar just around $0.05 below parity, the consumer’s power to spend outside of Canada is strong.