For those of us who live in a community so close to the U.S., cross-border shopping has been, and always will be, an option.
But what used to be a routine wave-through hop across the line to take advantage of a few lower price points – or a nice little change of scenery – has become almost an imperative in today’s sluggish economy.
The fact is that cash-strapped Canadians are inevitably tempted by lower prices for consumer goods in the U.S., whether or not they factor in the increased hassles of a more security-concerned border and the possibility of line-ups – even with Nexus lanes. In their urge to save, they may not calculate the hidden costs of travel or taxation that may nullify the ‘bargain’ they get south of the border.
U.S. merchants in Blaine and Bellingham, who are, naturally, more than happy to welcome northern shoppers to ease their own economic woes, have actually seen the spike in Canadian business almost cancel out the drop in their own domestic trade. Canadian business owners cry foul, of course, but it would be wrong to demonize cross-border shopping in and of itself.
Rather, the attention of Canada’s leaders must be focused on problems north of the border that exacerbate the situation.
One is a system of taxes and tariffs that make it impossible for Canadian retail businesses to compete on a level playing field with their U.S. counterparts. A few anomalies will likely always exist either side of a border, but much lower prices across the board are literally driving consumers south.
It is also time for the federal government – and big business – to look at the real hardship of middle-income Canadians struggling to make ends meet in the face of increased gas and food prices and drastically-eroded spending power.
While there is always some fickleness on the part of consumers, many of those venturing south to save right now are thinking of survival.
Local government must also address an over-saturation of retail business predicated on earlier economic conditions. And local retailers should always be looking at how well they serve their customers.
There are many good reasons to ‘shop local.’ Cross-border shopping, on the scale that is now happening, is a short-sighted approach that tends to undermine our own standard of living.
And pouring Canadian dollars into the U.S. economy is doing nothing to help our own, or address problems of Canadian business that, if solved, could see more money on hand to spend with our local businesses.