The problem with Canadian retailing …

… is Canadian retailing, not price disparity with the U.S. Ottawa has ordered a study of price differentials on consumer products between the two countries. I’ve spent the last 10 days in the U.S. and I can’t say I notice much difference on food or pharmacy products, two large categories. To be sure, gasoline in the U.S. is 20 per cent cheaper and the savings are even greater on beer and wine. Twelve bottles of Corona cost $14.99 in the U.S. versus $24.95 at The Beer Store. But higher gas and alcohol prices are caused by government taxes.

Of course, the collapse of the Canadian dollar is playing hob with some prices. For this we can blame Stephen Poloz, who left the Export Development Corporation to become Governor of the Bank of Canada, then promptly drove down the dollar to help Canadian exporters at the expense of Canadian consumers.

For me, price is not the problem. The major difference between the two countries when it comes to retail is service. I was in Staples a few days ago looking for a composition book. The one I wanted was not available in the store but they said they could ship it to me. I ordered three for a total cost of less than $9. They arrived next day via UPS. Who in Canada is going to ship by courier for free, so fast, on such a modest purchase?

Or how about Macy’s where there was no apparent discount but the clerk took 15 per cent off my purchase then found a coupon for a further 10 per cent. Got a furniture delivery? There will be the day-before phone reminder, a call 30 minutes in advance of the expected arrival, then a day-after ‘How was everything?’ follow-up.

I watch prices, of course, but I love service more. I had emailed Clarks consumer service department in Canada a month before Christmas asking where in Toronto I could buy a specific winter boot. I finally got a response today. If I’d been living in the U.S. I can almost imagine the sales rep showing up at my door the day after my query with several choices in my size.

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