I hope that regular readers of my security column will forgive me, but today I’d like to get a few things off my chest.

With the holidays approaching, we’ll undoubtedly hear Canadian retailers whinging about how the Internet is costing them revenue and begging us to “shop local.”  They’ll tell us how Internet shopping hurts our community. Some will even go so far as to suggest that buying from abroad is unpatriotic.

My friend and colleague Darin Cowan has written about inflated Canadian prices for consumer medical equipment. I’ve seen it too – medically necessary items in the CDN $250 range on the local shelf and US $80 on the ‘net. But today I’ve got a tech example. 

I’m an avid photographer and I like to support our local photo stores.  Most of our independents have been consumed by the chains. Galaxy Camera remains the only Ottawa-owned store since The Focus Center was purchased by Toronto-based Henry’s and Ginn was swallowed up by Vistek.  However, they all have Ottawa stores and employ some knowledgeable professionals who can answer questions and give good advice. So when I went looking for a new SDHC memory card, of course I considered them first.

I’m particular about my digital camera memory. Lexar and Sandisk are the big names in the pro market and I was once a huge Lexar fan.  But one brand new Lexar CF card caused problems from the get-go and I returned it to the store, loosing some precious images along the way.  Another high speed professional Lexar CF card purchased a few years prior also failed and despite state-of-the-art forensic tools I couldn’t recover the images. It can’t be reformatted. The card has an ‘as long as you own it’ warrantee, yet it lies dead on my desk because I can’t find the original receipt. I leave it there as a reminder about customer service in general, and Lexar’s lack thereof in specific. Perhaps one day I’ll frame it with an appropriate caption.

So on Saturday evening, with the kids settled into their beds, I sat down to look at SDHC memory (for a different camera).  The Sandisk Extreme III 16 GB SDHC card caught my eye and I surfed around comparing prices:

  • Galaxy Camera – price not listed on web site.
  • Henrys CDN $219.99
  • Vistek CDN $229.95
  • Best Buy Canada CDN $219.99
  • Future Shop CDN $219.99

The going price in Ottawa is clearly CDN $219.99. (Those familiar with Vistek won’t be surprised that they were $10 higher than market.)

Next I checked B&H Photo Video in New York.  For those not familiar with B&H, they have a huge bricks-and-mortar store at 9th Ave and 34th Street in Manhattan and also do a brisk online business. I often use them as a comparison because they usually offer good prices, and when others whine about the lower overhead of “online” merchants I suggest they check out real estate prices in zip code 10001.

The price at B&H?  US $122 plus a $20 mail-in rebate for a total of US $102. You can see it for yourself here.

Shipping to Canada isn’t cheap — $26.10 for UPS, but as most Canadians have painfully discovered, UPS screws us with high brokerage fees at the border.  If you can wait a bit longer, it’s better to pay B&H $32.50 for shipment via US Mail, bringing the total to US $154.50. At Friday’s exchange rate, plus an additional 2% (credit cards almost always mark up the rate), that’s CDN $165.50. Add GST and PST plus the $5 the Canada Post fee, and we’re at CDN $192.02 to my door. That’s almost CDN $30 cheaper than walking in to the local store – more if you consider the gas and time required to go there.  And that’s before the US $20 rebate.

Of course there are less expensive ways to get the product to Canada such as combining orders with family and friends (buying two costs US $138.88 each including shipping) or shipping to a US address and picking it up.

There’s simply no excuse for the high prices charged by Ottawa retail stores. Ignoring the rebate, I can save CDN $30 purchasing one unit at retail with shipping across the border straight to my home. Canadian retailers can obviously do much better for their customers.

Perhaps Canadian retailers are right, the Internet is costing them revenue – because now we know when we’re being screwed.

(P.S. Live or work near B&H?  I’d love to hear from you!)

4 Responses to Canadians screwing Canadians

  1. kingthorin
    Oct 26, 2009

    Have you tried looking at any non camera stores? Walmart? Futureshop? Computer stores like RB Computing or PC Cyber in Bell’s Corners. Office supply stores like Grand & Toy or Staples? I’ve found that memory card prices usually suck at camera stores.

  2. Eric Jacksch
    Oct 26, 2009

    I did some searches — a lot of the computer stores don’t seem to carry the higher speed SDHC cards, probably because they are most commonly purchased for use in cameras 🙂

    But the point is that Canadian retailers are charging much higher than their US counterparts and there doesn’t appear to be any justification other than they think they can get away with it.

  3. kingthorin
    Oct 27, 2009

    Agreed, I just thought you might get lucky somewhere other than a camera store.

  4. Eric Jacksch
    Nov 06, 2009

    Just to follow-up, before buying memory I ran some tests on my new camera and determined that there wasn’t a noticable performance gain between Class 4 and Class 6 cards. Best Buy currently has 16 GB Sandisk Ultra cards (Class 4) on at CDN $59.

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