Better buys over the border?

Friday, 8 May 2009 | Tags: , , , , , ,

Remember when the Canadian dollar was $1.50 to the US buck? Yikes, I try not to think about that too much either. Then happy days arrived: our dollar went gangbusters and it actually made sense to shop in the US, especially before Canadian retailers adjusted their pricing. And then the loonie lost some steam and once again it was, wasn't, is it (??) better to shop in the US?

I recently found a great army green coat by Elizabeth and James (the Olson twins’ label) at Blubird in Vancouver. It’s a trench with some unique detailing and I fell in love with it right away.

Two short weeks later in LA, I walk into Intermix, one of my favourite US stores (see my last blog “LA Woman“), wearing the above-mentioned coat no less, only to find the very same item for $100 cheaper!!! GRRH. Elizabeth and James is becoming quite the ubiquitous label. I should have waited to get to LA to shop around. Lesson learned. (Though what would I have worn to LA??)

 On the same trip, I’m walking on Sunset when I spot the most divine pair of black riding boots. (Anna is my witness: I’ve been looking for some for a year. While on a shooting trip to Italy last October, I must have bypassed a thousand pairs of black boots, dismissing each one as “not exactly right.”)

Then I come back to Vancouver and see the same boots at Gravity Pope for less. That said, I don’t regret the purchase. After all that searching, you have to get it when you see it.

So one item was more expensive in Canada and the other was cheaper. How’s a girl to keep up?


Here are some of my cross border shopping tips to keep in mind:

1) Shop in one town and one town only, thereby avoiding the whole problem to begin with. But if you’re a recreational or professional shopper like me, that’s no fun!

2) Compare prices online. Visiting a few websites will give you a good idea how much the item sells for in the US. I like shopstyle.com as a good aggregator site.

 3) Many people think ordering online is more expensive when you take into account exchange rates, shipping, duty, and taxes. Not always true. I found a Kooba handbag at www.bluefly.com (a designer clothing discount site) for half price. Even with the additional costs, I still came out ahead.

4) Buying US-made products still tends to be cheaper in the US. Buying international (e.g. European-made goods) varies depending on the type of item it is. German-made toys may be almost the same price (apart from the exchange), while Italian designer shoes may cost 5-20% higher or more in Canada. Of course, that doesn’t take into account any sales you might find.

5) These days, check the exchange rates daily. Be ready to pounce when the dollar is in your favour.

6) If you’re going on a trip, change your money in Canada, not the US. You’ll likely get a better exchange rate.

7) Try to shop with cash. Credit card companies charge a currency conversation rate that is added to your exchange rate. You don’t see it listed but it’s about 2.5%.

8) If you’re buying online, make sure the item is definitely in stock at the time of purchasing to take advantage of a lower daily exchange rate. If it’s backordered, you might get charged at a higher rate later since most stores don’t charge your credit card until they ship the items.

9) Duty varies depending on what the product is and where it’s made. Check the Canadian Border Services Agency website to learn more.

I know you’ve all got tips too, so let us all in on them! Share your comments below, whether you’re talking Canada, USA, or anywhere else in the world.



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