Recently, while shopping around for a series of new pairs of shoes, I came to a few conclusions. Firstly, while the selection at traditional Canadian shoes retailers is often on par with that of the US, the prices tend to be significantly higher. Secondly, when it comes to Canadian online shoe retailers you are stuck choosing from a select few terrible options. Online outlets for traditional retailers tend to have the same high prices as their physical counterparts, smaller Canadian online shoe retailers (the ones who actually ship to Canada) have an extremely limited selections, and Amazon.ca is plagued by both a lack of selection and third-party sellers causing an inconsistent shopping experience. This problem means that most savvy Canadian choose to shop for shoes (among other things) in the US market, where the prices can be nearly half of what they are north of the border.
Canadians buying shoes in the US can choose to either go to outlet stores which have amazing deals on many brand name shoes, or buy from one of the numerous, large, online US shoes retailers like Zappos or Amazon.com. For someone in Ottawa it is more cost effective to take the latter route and have them shipped as close to the border as possible and then drive down to pick them up.
For the purposes of this example I will be breaking down the costs and savings related to my recent order of shoes through Amazon.com and what is involved in the process of having them shipped to and picked up from the UPS store in Ogdensburg New York.
My order consisted of four pairs of shoes, two of them were Brooks running shoes, one a pair of Keens, and the fourth, a pair of Salomons. The two brooks running shoes were to be replacements for existing pairs of the same model. Unfortunately, due them being a few years old, finding the correct size in stock in the US was extremely tough. As such, I was forced to go with the more recent, and thus more expensive version. If I have been able to get the older model I would have been able to save $70 a pair as they cost $150 from Brooks.ca and only $80 from Amazon.com. With the newer model, the savings, while not quite as substantial, were still significant at $40 a pair, $120 in the US vs $160 here at home through Brooks.ca. Buying the Keens in the US for $90 is also a $30 saving over the $120 Canadian price tag. Finally, the Salomons, which are regularly $160 in Canada, are only $90 in the US, a saving of $70.
While the total cost of the shoes in Canada would be $600, buying them in the US is only $420. But, before concluding that buying the shoes in the US is the cheaper option, one has to consider the costs associated with the driving and border crossing. The fuel efficiency of the average sedan is about 25MPG, or 9.4L/100KM, meaning that the 176KM trip requires 16.5L of gasoline. The fuel price in the US was around $3.86/USG, which works out to around a $1CAD/L. So, having driven to the US on an empty tank in order to maximize our use of the excellent prices, we managed to save ~$13 on a full tank of gas, paying only $68CAD in the US, compared to the $81 it would cost in Ottawa (at $1.35CAD/L). This means that the overall fuel cost of the trip was only $9 instead of the $22 it would have cost had the whole trip been in Canada (16.5Lx~$1.35/L). There were $15 in extra shipping-related fees, $5 for holding each of the three packages we ordered at UPS Store in Ogdensburg. The costs of crossing into the US consists of a $6 bridge toll and $54 in duty sales tax on the shoes being brought back.
Tallying up all of the cost we get $9 in fuel + $15 in extra shipping + $6 for the toll + $54 in taxes = $84. So adding that to our first subtotal of $420, we get a total cost of $504. The resulting ~$100 in savings means that we were able to get the equivalent of one of the pairs of shoes for free.
This comparison is a great example of how cross-border shopping can save you money, especially when you were planning to buy the shoes in Canada anyway. While $100 in saving might seem minimal compared to the work involved, it is worth nothing that this system benefits extremely well from economies of scale. The retail savings on each pair of shoes, shipping more items in the same packages to save on storage fees at the UPS store, and the fuel and toll savings from only making one trip all help to make these trips more worthwhile. To maximize your saving it is also recommended that picking up your order be planned to coincide with a trip to the US lasting more than 48 so that each person to bring back $800 in duty-free goods.
So while making the trip to the US to pick up a pair of shoes might seem arduous, you should consider that had I made the same trip for almost any of these four shoes individually, I would have still saved money compared to buying them in Canada.